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

Selecting ExCollege Courses

Over 100 proposals were submitted by candidates eager for the opportunity to teach in the fall semester. In just a few short days, the ExCollege Board will be meeting to determine which 22 of those courses will be offered to Tufts students. But how exactly do we go from the 100+ proposals down to 22?

The Life of a Proposal

 

 

The ExCollege and the Future of Higher Education

Today we began our 50th anniversary celebration weekend with a conference on the future of higher education. One of the conference highlights will be reflecting on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and how their presence will impact the traditional university. During the Fall 2013 semester, the ExCollege created a Quidnunc that allowed students to take MOOCs and discuss the experience with a group of peers. Ken Garden, ExCollege Board Chair and faculty member in the Religion Department, participated in the Quidnunc and shared his thoughts with us on MOOCs.

Written by Ken Garden, Religion Department and ExCollege Board Chair

2013-2014 has been a particularly eventful year at the ExCollege. In addition to our usual offerings of innovative and timely classes taught by practitioners, academic instructors, and students, we are celebrating a half century of the ExCollege at Tufts. The event will be marked by two exhibits on the ExCollege’s history, a gala held on April 12th, and a conference on the future of higher education on April 11th. The longevity of the ExCollege and the outpouring of support for its 50th anniversary speak to the vital role it plays in the life of the Tufts community.

Higher education is in the midst of one of its biggest experiments in years in the form of the Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. The New York Times dubbed 2012 the “Year of the MOOC.” That year, Google’s Sebastian Thrun started a new company, Udacity, to offer free online university courses to as many students as wanted to enroll in them. He was so confident of the promise of MOOCs that he predicted that within 50 years there would remain only a small handful of higher education providers, the rest of the world’s universities having been swept away by this new “disruptive technology.” Stanford sponsored a new MOOC consortium, Coursera, and Harvard and MIT followed suit, launching EdX later that year.

It seemed fitting that the ExCollege should join the conversation on the MOOC. A group of Tufts students and I, including our own Board member Kumar Ramanathan (A’15), set out to look into this experiment ourselves, each of us enrolling in a MOOC. Between us, we enrolled in courses on topics ranging from contraception, to the hero in ancient Greek literature, to irony in the writing of Søren Kierkegaard, to the history of architecture, to the letters of Paul.

Our experiences in many cases echoed what we had read about the MOOC experience. Having paid nothing for the course and with no non-virtual connection to the instructor or other students, several of us stopped taking courses that didn’t interest us and enrolled in other ones. Online multiple choice quizzes, discussion boards, and peer-graded essays were a pale substitute for classroom interaction and instructor-graded assignments. While we all saw a real threat to companies that sell university courses on CD or DVD, we saw no mortal threat to the traditional brick and mortar university. Sebastian Thrun came to a similar conclusion at the end of 2013, declaring that his own Udacity had a “lousy product.”

Still, we also saw ongoing experimentation with the MOOC and all of us felt we learned from the courses we took. It will be interesting to see what it evolves into and what kind of role online courses, massive or otherwise, come to play in higher education.

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TuftsNow also reflected on the ExCollege’s exploration into the world of MOOCs with an article written by Gail Bambrick.

Neuroscience and the Movies

Last fall, Emily Hueske and Steve Ramirez submitted a course proposal aiming to fuse together the worlds of neuroscience and the big screen. After a rigorous course selection process, their proposal was selected to be taught this spring! They’ve had an incredibly successful semester thus far, and they took a few minutes to reflect on the early weeks of their truly experimental classroom.

“Why is it that Jason Bourne can remember how to maneuver a car at 120mph, how to disarm an assailant in a second, and how to land properly after jumping off a building, yet he can’t remember his own name or past?”

 This is one of the first questions we were asked while introducing our experimental course on neuroscience and Hollywood. The answer lies in a remarkable property of the brain’s multiple memory systems, but the first week was just a teaser. To learn the full answer, we asked our students to join us on a semester-long tour of the brain’s structures and functions, but viewed through the lens of Hollywood. We were beyond thrilled at the turnout on day one and immediately realized a wonderful nugget of truth regarding the multi-disciplinary culture at Tufts: only at the ExCollege could such a symbiotic relationship between movies and neuroscience exist and be taught.

When you think about it, Hollywood has infused some of the most influential scenes in cinema with neuroscientific backdrops: Neo uploading Kung Fu to his mind; Cobb incepting an idea within a dream; Tyler Durden’s true alter-ego; Jason Bourne’s high-octane amnesia. A common thread that ties these movies together is the idea that the brain is the mind’s physical substrate through which ideas, memories, and personalities can be artificially enhanced or distorted. Each week, we use neuroscience as an arc to weave in and out of what Hollywood often gets right or wrong. Every class is sprinkled with movies clips, culturally relevant and science-tinged scenarios that are to be addressed in groups, and, of course, adrenaline-friendly discussions.

The level of engagement each student brought to the table blew us both away. For example, early on we voyaged into the world of memory manipulation and Inception. After teaching our students the nitty-gritty science behind distorting real memories, we began our Socratic style dialogue.

Nearly every student had a unique, scientifically sound interpretation of Inception that neither of us had originally considered. This, simply put, was as delightful as it was enriching. It was a very real two-way street of insight between the students and us. Everyone was both student and teacher at a given point throughout the class. Indeed, having Hollywood and neuroscience both act as pedagogical tools to teach the Tufts community was originally experimental, but the results in this first pass have been an inspiring testament to the ExCollege’s mission.

In our class, we ask our students to digest the following: neuroscience currently is reaching a point where ideas are rapidly being plucked from the tree of science fiction and grounded in experimental reality. We believe that with our team-oriented approach to teaching and learning, suddenly Jason Bourne’s amnesia and its neural underpinnings are—like the mind—not just orderly, but intelligible.

ExCollege Beginnings

In 1953 when Nils Wessel began his tenure at Tufts, he set out to transform Tufts from a “good, gray school” into a “small university of high quality.” Wessel’s desire for concrete change on campus sparked years of committees, meetings, and investigative groups on the Hill; focusing efforts on change, innovation, and taking the kinds of risks essential to the vitality of an academic community. During the process, Wessel stated, “We discussed, argued, discarded, and amended a host of ‘brilliant ideas.’ Finally one day Sandy [Tredinnick], perhaps out of impatience, said to me, ‘OK, Bosso, if you had full say what would you do?’ I said immediately, without hesitation, ‘I would create an experimental college.’” That idea quickly took root, and the Experimental College came into focus in 1964 with the colloquium Contemporary European Novels, which was the first comparative literature class taught at Tufts and was open to the entire Tufts community.

President Nils Wessel Tufts Digital Collections and Archives, http://hdl.handle.net/10427/2354

President Nils Wessel
Tufts Digital Collections and Archives, http://hdl.handle.net/10427/2354

Fast forward 50 years, and the ExCollege now offers over 100 courses each year to almost 1,500 Tufts students! Over those 50 years, the ExCollege continues to represent Wessel’s original vision of a continually evolving, experimental institution on campus. Programs originally fostered through the ExCollege have even found their way into the main Tufts curriculum, showcasing the ability of the ExCollege to make a long-lasting impact on Tufts!

We’ve listed just a few of the languages, courses, and programs that began through the ExCollege:

LANGUAGES THAT BEGAN AT THE EXCOLLEGE

  • Hebrew
  • Chinese
  • Japanese
  • Swahili
  • American Sign Language
  • Portuguese

PROGRAMS AND AREA STUDIES THAT GREW OUT OF THE EXCOLLEGE

  • Dance
  • Computer Science
  • Women’s Studies
  • African American Studies
  • Photography
  • Peace and Justice Studies
  • Institute of Global Leadership and EPIIC
  • Native American Studies
  • Communications and Media Studies

COURSES THAT WERE FIRST TAUGHT THROUGH THE EXCOLLEGE

  • History of Jazz
  • Race and Awareness within American Society
  • Homelessness in America
  • Death Penalty in America
  • Screenwriting

Reflection on Creating Change

Renee’ is a member of the ExCollege course, Contemporary Issues in Transgender Studies, taught by Ladawn Sheffield, and Renee’ wrote the following reflection as part of an assignment. Ladawn had her students participate in “Community Exploration and Engagement” by attending an LGBTQ event and prepare a reflection paper on their experiences.

Renee’ Vallejo reflects upon time spent at this year’s National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, held in Houston, Texas.

By Renee’ Vallejo

Self-love. Affirmation. Empowerment. These three words express how I felt throughout my time at the National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change in Houston, Texas. There were many important things that I took away from the conference. First of all, I met Laverne Cox and what an amazing, inspiring human being she is! As the keynote speaker I could not wait for her to walk out onto that stage and own the crowd with her words and presence-and that she did. From this, I realized the true importance of feeling strength in my ability to highlight my individuality. Self-acceptance begins with me being aware of my uniqueness-with speaking and living my truth.

Renee' with Laverne Cox at Creating Change.

Renee’ with Laverne Cox at Creating Change.

Out of the twelve or so workshops that I attended the one that left me as fulfilled as I have ever been was a workshop on self-love held by the Brown Boi Project. One of the discussion groups I participated in was about how one should maintain self-care when feeling alone. Fear used to determine how I lived my life, but after hearing so many different stories and witnessing the flow of so many tears, I now believe in facing everything assertively and rationally. As individuals, we must learn to take the time to pause and remind ourselves about all the beautiful things that we are. Learning is teaching and teaching is learning. I know of nothing more valuable, when it comes to the all-important virtue of authenticity, than simply being who I am. The journey of self-love is eternal for all.

All of the discussions and thoughts that occurred during this conference personally reminded me of the constraints of “rebelling” within society. Rebellion implies going against the norm, and the norm is in constant flux based on changing times, social movements and generational gaps. For this reason, many people feel that the strides LGBTQetc groups have made imply that “nontraditional” sexualities have become some type of norm. That would mean that the stigma of rebelling by being part of one of these groups has been lessened in some way, but that is sadly not the case. When it comes to rebellion, there is always a new way that one can deviate and be considered an outsider, especially in terms of sexuality. I believe there to be no original of any sexuality because although people may identify with the same label, that label may not mean same thing to them. We make the labels, the labels do not make us. We are all unique and that is how our sexualities originate- from within.

My experience with rebellion has been one of weighing consequences against the glorious benefits of liberation. As a teen, I prioritized social acceptance, but was unsure about being embraced if my internal were to match the image of myself that I desired. Ultimately, I became dissociated from the reflection I saw each day. I could choose to live in this duality, or merge the reality of my experience with life around me in an attempt to be comfortable.

My appearance is one that lands on the masculine side of the spectrum, although I am female bodied. While most people view this as rebellious, I merely believe that policing bodies or allowing myself to be policed is unacceptable. We are worlds of queerness and social status apart from one another. It is fascinating to me that people can use the exterior to judge or determine what aesthetics are appropriate, yet simultaneously, I could never envision my interior encased in any other skin than that which I possess.

Visibility is key if we are to be inclusive of all identities, but sitting back and listening to others is just as important as speaking. Sit up. Speak up. Listen up. “Loving trans people, I believe, is a revolutionary act. And I believe when we love someone we respect them and we listen to them; we feel that their voice matters and we let them dictate the terms of who they are and what their story is” – it could not have been said any better by Laverne Cox.

French in Motion

Carolyn Fidelman joined the Experimental College in 1989 as a Visiting Lecturer. Her course, French in Motion, broke out of the traditional language course mold by having students study uniquely French body language and body communication.

In an interview with the Daily, Carolyn noted, “A study by psychologist Albert Mehrabian once revealed that only seven percent of communication involves the spoken word. It’s a little embarrassing that French courses have been concentrating on that seven percent for so long. Students are coming out of three or four semesters of basic language instruction feeling unprepared to speak in Paris.” Her class, of course, also sharpened students’ grammar skills, but the increased focus on unspoken body language allowed for a new dimension in acquiring language skills.

By the end of the semester, her students gained a deeper understanding of how body language allowed for an even better and more dynamic use of the spoken French language.

Tufts Daily, March 1989

Tufts Daily, March 1989

The ExCollege continues the trend of innovative language courses with our Spring 2014 classes Translation Practice and Theory and Medical Spanish. Translation Practice and Theory is open to any student with a proficiency in any language, and students work with a mentor and instructor Ellen Elias-Bursac to learn the necessary skills for translating a variety of materials in their chosen language.

Medical Spanish focuses on students looking to deepen their knowledge of Spanish medical terminology. Instructor Josep Vicente often has his students act out doctor-patient scenarios in class!