Staff Picks from the ExCollege

We love going into an independent bookstore and finding a shelf of “Staff Picks” that not only recommend great books, but also provide a glimpse into the interests and personality of the staff who recommend them.

In that vein, here are some personal favorites by ExCollege staff if they had time to sign up for a Fall course.  Check out all our course offerings here.  Registration opens June 6.

137122847247677.fJksADsW4rW8HTkpzGqI_height640ExCollege Staff Member: Director Howard Woolf

Course he’d like to take: Accused: The Gap Between Law and Justice (EXP-0070)

“I’m fascinated by the personal story of instructor Sonja Spears (J ’86), who was an elected judge for twelve years in New Orleans. Despite her unblemished legal career, she endured two years of intense scrutiny as the target of a federal criminal investigation. She was ultimately cleared without any charges being filed, and the office in charge of her prosecution has faced questions of prosecutorial misconduct

I love the complexity of New Orleans, and Sonja’s experience there gives the course a unique perspective on the wrongfully accused and what ‘justice’ means in this country today.”

ExCollege Staff Member: Madeleine Delpha

Course she’d like to take: All courses on reproduction and art

“As the parent of a four-year-old, I’m already thinking about age-appropriate Sex Ed: From Pre-K to Grade 12 (EXP-0041). I’m interested in the relationship between sexuality and gender from different cultural perspectives, a topic also explored in Reproductive Health: Gender, Race, and Inequality (EXP-0044).

At the same time, thumbnail-3the artist in me would love to take Guerilla Performance Art & Politics (EXP-0018) taught by Milan Kohout, who has been on the front lines of political art activism.

Finally, the art historian in me would not miss Art and the Nazis (EXP-0004), and its analysis of why modern art was so threatening to the Nazis, and why they were drawn to certain styles of centuries-old art.”

ExCollege Staff Member: Joseph Abrantes

136806564309631.0q8JyYEAKiXfsFCejBD4_height640Course he’d like to take:    Love and Blood: Perspectives on Adoption (EXP-0045)

“The topic is something I can relate to personally.  While each person discussed in the course has a different experience – whether they were orphaned, fostered, and/or adopted – they share a common experience of being part of a family that was disrupted.

My runner-up choice would be EXP-0054 The Aesthetics of Commercial Culture, because how often do you get to study Queen Bey?”


ExCollege Staff Member: Amy Goldstein

Women & Water

Course she’d like to take:   Women and Water: Fighting for Environmental Justice (EXP-0048)

“I have a longstanding interest in environmental justice (see my previous blog post), and I’m always fascinated by the forgotten roles that women have played in history and science.  This course seems to be a brilliant combination of environmental studies concepts viewed through the lens of the role women have played in conservation and environmental movements, with a focus on water.”

Need more suggestions? Just ask us!

Why Are We Still Lecturing?

university-105709__340Is the traditional college classroom and its main instrument, the lecture, under siege by the forces of change? Given all the research on learning in the last twenty years, how archaic does the classic image feel of an instructor at a podium, or pacing back and forth, with a series of overheads (or these days PowerPoint presentations) projected in large while he or she imparts wisdom to an audience numbering in the hundreds?

And yet, for all the talk of “disruptive education” and for all the estimable experiments going on at colleges across the country, change seems only to be nipping at the heels of tradition.

Take, for example, MOOCs, often heralded as the vanguard of a revolution in higher education. No one can deny their phenomenal growth. By one authoritative count there are over 4000 MOOCs being offered to a billion students worldwide. One must applaud the sheer numbers and marvel at the striking desire on the part of humans to educate themselves. However, if you scratch the surface, what do you have? A billion students being lectured to.



Is it purely a function of the medium, the fact that MOOCs are videotaped or streaming presentations? Perhaps. Certainly the signal from a single fixed camera is infinitely easier to set up and control — compared, say, to three cameras (one wide shot of the room, one audience shot, one close up of the speaker) and the requisite editing or live switching a multiple camera setup necessitates.

Or is it a function of cost? The typical single fixed camera set up is by far the least expensive and can be easily and cheaply reused for any number of courses. In a number of instances, such a setup is totally automated. The speaker simply pushes a button.

Clearly, common sense tells us that both these factors come in to play. And yet, I submit that they’re not the essential elements driving this deeply embedded reliance on lecturing.

So what are the drivers? For MOOCS and for much of what passes for teaching at brick and mortar colleges?

First of all, the lecture is a form of teaching designed for people who aren’t trained to teach. I know this sounds like a strange and perhaps harsh thing to say about my colleagues. But most university faculty are trained to write scholarly papers, articles, reports, and books. Few if any received guidance or critique on teaching when they began their careers. Left to their own devices, what did they do? They emulated their professors. From their training in research, they knew very well how to organize and assess information and craft an argument. And lecturing allowed them to package research as presentation. A perfect fit!

Even more central to the persistence of lecturing is its status as a “teacher centered” form of education. A power relationship is established, one that subordinates the student to the teacher. The teacher controls that which is of value, dolling it out in small pieces as he or she sees fit. Even when the teacher allows questions, they’re almost always sandwiched in after the end of the lecture for the day, almost always for clarification purposes, and almost never to call into question the teacher’s mastery.

Is there hope for the future? Will lecturing slowly give way to more interactive, participatory, and experiential forms of teaching and learning?


Perhaps so, if more educators take seriously the research being done on learning. For starters, there’s a 2014 study conducted by investigators from the University of Washington and the University of Maine that found “students in traditional lecture courses are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in courses with active learning.”

Sooner or later, rather than requiring students to memorize and then regurgitate information, shouldn’t we be teaching them how to think?

Announcing the Birth of Spring 2016

Magic 2The ExCollege staff is in full throttle as we launch our 2016 courses tonight. Or is this a better metaphor: We’re proud parents who’ve nurtured our babies and now they must leave the nest.  It all began several months ago with the influx of proposals, then the gestational period of vetting, interviewing, and debating the merits of each course with students and faculty on our Board.  Elephant 2

The result: the birth of twenty-one visiting lecturer courses, eleven peer-taught classes, and a host of others offered in partnership with a range of Tufts departments.

Then we worried about how some of our children might find their way in the world: would a class on “Dope Fiends” (EXP-0037) find an audience while the opioid crisis is in the news?
Dope Fiends 2Does a course titled “Fatness: Body Politics in America” convey how size shapes opportunity, life chances, privilege and oppression? What type of student wants to analyze a different color each week (EXP-0016)?



Do people think they already know what it’s like for “Women in the Islamic Middle East” (EXP-0066), or would they leap at the chance to study with a visiting Iranian scholar? Is “The Lives of Scientists” (EXP-0020) really for biology students, English majors, chimpanzee lovers, or just someone looking for a true interdisciplinary class? Lives Scientists

We know there are a lot of film fans out there, but do they want to make films, learn the business of films, unravel the astonishment of magic and movies, or analyze the fascination with horror?

Filmmaking 1.1We’ve watched like proud parents as the enrollment for each of these courses has grown.  Now we want to know what YOU think.  Tell us what that first class is like.  We bet you’ll be astonished.  More importantly, tell your friends.


What I Learned from Teaching a College Course on Social Media

ExCollege visiting lecturer Ben Rubenstein learned a thing or two teaching Social Media this fall:


student-created meme on clicktivism

Until recently, my teaching background consisted of a chaotic seventh-grade Sunday school class, and a volunteer gig as an English-only assistant in a Spanish-only adult computer course.

So when my friend Jesse Littlewood asked me to co-teach a course on social media at Tufts University’s Experimental College this fall, I felt totally qualified. Beyond my rigorous experience, I’d presented in his previous class with no ill effect on student evaluations. Why not push my luck?

As a social media manager, it’s my job to stay on top of trends that seemingly change every few days. This course offered a chance to move beyond the marketing blog echo-chamber (2016 is definitely going to be the year of Google+!) and spend thirteen weeks digging into the perspectives of digital natives whose every attention shift helps to shape the future of the social web. There was also the prospect of some extra income, but as any adjunct can attest, if I were in it for the money I’d likely be better off moonlighting at Trader Joe’s.

Our survey course, “Social Media: Participatory Culture and Content Creation,” pushed students to take a step back from the platforms they use every day to consider the larger context of their actions and their impact on relationships with peers, institutions, and society at large. It was one of 50 seminars on the ‘ExCollege’ fall schedule, competing for attention against diverse topics like Argentine tango, The Weather Underground, white supremacy, and improv.

Twenty-two undergraduates from a range of majors signed up, and from the first class it was clear we were all in for a ride. Racial inequity, gender identity, privacy, algorithms, filter bubbles…all of it came up within twenty minutes.
I’ll avoid the cliché of “the students taught me more than I could ever teach them,” but I did learn a few important lessons from the experience.

Read the rest of Ben’s post at:

What I Learned from Teaching a College Course on Social Media

Thank you, Ben and Jesse!  Instructors like you are what makes the ExCollege great!

Mash-Up of ExCollege Courses We’d Like to See

We recently discovered The List App, the deceptively simple and addictive iPhone app by B.J. Novak of The Office fame.  Sometimes the ExCollege course titles all start to run together in my mind…so without further ado:

  • Human-Animal Tango
  • Bad Parents in the Digital Age
  • Media Circus & Society
  • The Social Psychology of Movie Stars
  • Iraq Through Young Adult Fiction
  • Neuroscience & Career Development
  • The Gap Between Law & Sports

And when you download The List App, be sure to follow ExCollege!

Mom, Apple Pie, and . . . Documentary?

As the new director of the Experimental College at Tufts, it’s my privilege to lead off with the first post on X, our updated blog. To this end, I want to share a few observations on something I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately: the surprising state of documentary these days.

Here at the ExCollege, for example, we’re offering a well-received course on doc theory taught by Natalie Minik, who’s a product of the Duke Center for Documentary Studies. In addition, on Sunday, October 11th, we’re co-sponsoring the Tufts premier of Codename: Pirat, a film by Erik Asch about his father, Bob, the long time director of the Tufts-in-Tubingen program, who may or may not have been a spy!

And my colleague here in the Film and Media Studies program, Khary Jones, is part of the creative team that just brought He Named Me Malala to the screen. I mention “screen” quite intentionally, because the film is currently showing at suburban multiplexes around Boston!

On a personal note, I’m in the very early stages of launching a long-form project about a breakaway Jewish congregation in Chicago, called Mishkan, that’s attempting to meld progressive politics with folk culture and ecstatic practice.

It seems to me that all of this points toward a sea change in American culture. Over the last twenty years, people have started paying attention to films other than features. Yes, it built slowly. And yes, it would be fair to say that interest has waxed and waned. And yes, it might also be fair to say that – call it what you will – this renaissance, this golden age of documentary, owes much to a bookend set of necessary evils: “reality” TV and Michael Moore. (Reality TV and Moore both warrant further discussion, but I won’t take the time now to do so.)

Equally as important, I believe the ascendance of documentary has been driven, in a fundamental manner, by the digitization of media, a phenomenon that cuts two ways.

First of all, thanks to digital cameras and editing software, shooting a documentary at a quality level that audiences will read as “professional” is now within the reach of anyone who can cobble together a few thousand dollars. Once upon a not so distant time, that figure would have been a few hundred thousand, at least.

Secondly, cable and the Internet have exponentially expanded the need for “content” (horrible word, great concept). And “content providers” – HBO, IFC, iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Prime, and so on – have rushed into the breach, providing the means to promote and distribute small-budget films at a magnitude unimaginable in the 80s and 90s.

Obviously, there’s much to work through. But for me, today, I’m left with these thoughts. We have a solid enrollment in the course. Erik’s film is garnering praise around the world. There’s funding and an audience within reach for my project. And you can buy tickets for Malala at Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge, and Showcase Cinemas in Worcester and Woburn, five or six shows daily, every day of the week.

Course selections: Already!?!

It’s that time in the semester where soon after your blood has slightly cooled off from a hectic midterm season, it’s time to focus on the new set of courses you will endeavor for the following semester. Depending on the amount of course preparation you’ve done for your next installment of courses, this can be a breeze. However, for those of us preoccupied with our current work load, the list of our new course work could have easily been missed.

By the time this post is published, a quarter of the school will have already selected their courses for their final semester of their undergraduate career: the seniors. It’s a bittersweet moment for this round of course selections. It’s the last time we’ll be able to have the free range of course selection that Tufts has to offer, but at the same time finishing off our assigned rigorous course work. Seniors be sure not to waste your last semester and think critically of what you want to challenge yourself with or what else you will want to learn!

I’m not going to lie, picking courses for this last semester was a bit of a challenge. I could do the whole “seniorities” schedule and minor in yoga during my final semester to begin to unwind from the tight-winded course schedule I needed to follow that past three and a half years. But instead, I looked at my final semester as a chance to explore and add more toward my major and personal interest. After needing to complete my sign up for my thesis and capstone project, I had the liberty of taking an course I desired. So, the curious 7 year old me had me enroll in ENP 166: Computer Interface Design with Michael Wiklund, REL 145: Tibetan Buddhism with Professor Joseph Walser, and finally COMP 20: Web Programming with Professor Ming Chow.

This is far from the notorious spring semester senior schedule, but I rather put my young brain to use. Give my toolbox a few each tools to apply in the real world. Continue to meet other curious Tufts students because all I have left is one. One semester. So I’m going to make it count.

#SeniorYear #Scheduling #SIS


Maintaining Motivation During Mid-Terms

As a senior, a lot is required from you. Not only are you finalizing your courses for your major(s) and minors and applying for graduation, but due to competitive acceptance rates in the work force, you have to juggle job applications, current internships, senior swag (rings, portraits, etc.) at the same time. Hopefully, if you’ve mapped out your entire Tufts academic career just right, you may be in better shape of giving you leeway to juggle.

The juggle may be difficult, but the courses you are taking now and in the future may be a key factor in keeping you motivate during the entire semester. The biggest advice I always give to students is find courses that intellectually stimulate you, while giving you a breadth of knowledge that can be applied outside the classroom into other facets of your interests, work, activities, and even sports. The most interesting courses I’ve taken here at Tufts, are the ones that compliment my major, yet are not part of the list of required courses needed for my major. These courses assist in your critical thinking skills while encouraging an application of what you are learning to a different audience–truly supporting the interdisciplinary education an elite university like Tufts can provide to its students.

Many friends and colleagues of mine will do just this as well. These are the courses that keep you motivated during midterms and finals because you are applying knowledge and skill in a different manner. Courses offered here at the ExCollege can do just that! They can provide these intellectual stimulus or application of your skill set in a different manner, or even bring your perspective into the class which others benefit from. Keep up the great work! Tufts is a difficult school, but it’s here to teach you to critically think, critically analyze, and formulate opinions and ideas that will benefit you in life after your undergraduate career.

#Midterms #Motivation #Tufts #EngineeringPsychology #HumanFactors

Has Our Creativity and Curiosity Decreased?

In an interesting article I read recently called “What is Creativity?–Cultivating Creativity”, it argues that there has been a steady decline in creativity since in the late 1990s. If we look around to our mobile devices, computers, films, art, design, science, etc., one can argue this may not be the case entirely. Well… with the majority of Hollywood films being adapted from novels and/or comic books, one can say film is one place where creativity has declined in the past two decades… Even if you look at the courses the ExCollege has offered to date have always been considered current, exploratory, innovative, and well received by the student body for decades.

In the article, the author discusses a time when he was in the supermarket with his son. His son asks him either do bananas grow on the trees from top to bottom, or bottom to top. The father pulls out his phone, Google’s the answers and in 30 seconds they knew all about how bananas grew, where, and when. Yet, the father stops himself and is upset to realized he did not give his son room to question and explore his thoughts before finding the answer. This is where I agree with the article, in many facets because we have the privilege of readily information at our finger tips, there is less room for exploration.

Exploration entices your curiosity and fuels your creativity. I’ve always been a very curious person about the things in our world and constantly think and question my surroundings. Growing up I was encouraged to do so by my mother, teachers, mentors, and sports coaches, and I’ve carried that into my early adulthood and will continue to do so. But let’s turn the mic around, do you think curiosity assist creativity? Is the readily available information more to our benefit than this article leads us to believe?

I always urge people to hold on to their imagination, just like when you were younger, careless, and bubbled with imagination. Hold on to seven year old you! Who knows, they might surprise you and help you configurate your paper or presentation in a manner that is innovative and more approachable to your audience. Or lend a hand in looking at your world with a new set of eyes. A fresh perspective. Give it a try! Here at the ExCollege, that’s what they’re all about. Exploration in an academic scope. See how much more you can learn when you start asking questions and ponder solutions before you come to the answer.

For more information on the article, please click HERE.

#Creativity #Curiosity #Exploration

Micro and Macro Influences from the ExCollege

The end of the foliage is near, the breeze getting cooler, and midterm season among us. But if you lift your head from the binds of your books or computer screens and look around, there is much to celebrate and notice at Tufts this year. The Experimental College, standing strong and getting it’s fall season home make-over, is celebrating 50 years here at Tufts University. I’ve been lucky to be a part of the ExCollege since my freshman year, bringing me to a consecutive four years with the ExCollege this spring, which in college years is a century. It’s been great to be fostered by a great family here at the ExCollege. My first year I was a student in “Blockbusters” a Perspectives course analyzing blockbuster films and the film industry as a business. I’m a student Board member on the ExCollege Board and an Office Assistant. Fast forward to my senior year, and I’m teaching an Explorations course called “From Brainstorm to Business” where we analyze  problems we see or encounter and ideas are simply the solutions and business ventures the execution. The mentee to mentor cycle occurs year after year here at the ExCollege, which to me is a prime example as to not only why it’s rejoiced by tour guides and lectures coming from all corners of disciplines, but why it’s celebrating it’s 50th this year.

We are in the mist of processing all of our proposals for Spring ’15 courses, and the pool of applicants is looking strong. I’ve seen all kinds of proposals for various classes while being an office assistant here at the ExCollege, but every year there is always a general handful of applications that never ceases to surprise me and spark my curiosity. This confirms my notion of creativity and curiosity and how it continues to thrive and coexist–something I believe the ExCollege fosters well through it’s course selection and general presence on the hill. Next week, I want to dive into this notion of creativity and curiosity, so please stay tuned!

You’ll be seeing me every Wednesday here on the ExCollege blog! Feel free to comment and ask me questions, or post to start dialogue with other readers. And since it’s parent’s weekend and you go with your family or your newfound college family (plus the weather will be gorgeous this Saturday) go to the Head of the Charles and cheer on your Jumbos’ crew team either Saturday or Sunday 🙂

Marcy Regalado, Engineering Psychology (Human Factors), Class 2015

#ProposalProcessing #ExCollege50th