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

 

 

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.

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!

The ExCollege brought me to Tufts, and the ExCollege has kept me here.

Written by Kumar Ramanathan, A15

“Wait, what ExCollege class are you taking?”

This is a question I have asked friends, friends of friends, and strangers in Dewick more times that I care to count. My personal investment in each and every class comes as a surprise to some, but in every case I’ve heard fascinating and enthusiastic stories that make me proud to be a member of the ExCollege Board.

kumar

Kumar Ramanthan:
A15 and ExCollege Board member

I first met the Board in April last year, walking into the conference room as the perpetually nervous freshman that we all remember being. What struck me immediately was how friendly the group that faced me was, and how passionate they all were about making the ExCollege the best place it could be. Each member of the Board has their own interests and quirks, but all of those come together to make the right kind of mix that a place as eclectic as the ExCollege needs.

Being part of this team has been a wonderfully positive way to impact the lives of those around me. From organizing the Election Night Extravaganza to debating over the last two classes to be approved, each meeting is unabashedly and wholeheartedly directed towards making Tufts a better and more fun place. Most of all, being surrounded by such dedicated faculty and students has made me look at and appreciate Tufts in whole new ways.

The ExCollege brought me to Tufts, and the ExCollege has kept me here. My time in the Board is one of the most rewarding, fascinating, and fun experiences that Tufts has offered me, and I can’t wait to keep doing it.

The ExCollege is now accepting applications for the 2014-2015 Board. If you’re interested in applying, download the application from our website. All applications are due February 21.

An Inside Look at Spring Registration

In 1964, the ExCollege began its journey at Tufts with over 60 students, staff, and faculty participating in one class: The Contemporary European Novel designed by Seymour Simches, Juan Alonso, and Sol Gittleman. This course was not only the first comparative literature course taught at Tufts, but also the first class dealing exclusively in modern literature taught in translation. Fast forward 50 years and the ExCollege houses over 50 courses offered for credit to Tufts students. This spring, almost 800 students enrolled in an ExCollege course, ready to dabble in the experimental and be immersed in the wonderful world of innovative, interactive education.

ExCollege Spring 2014 Numbers Vertical_small

 

Out of the 24 selected Visiting Lecturer courses, 11 filled to capacity with excited Tufts students. So what were these popular classes?

  • American Superheroes: Power, Politics, and Morality
  • 2D Animation
  • The Corset and the Crown: The History and Politics of Fashion
  • Medical Spanish
  • The Mind’s Eye: Neuroscience in the Movies
  • Positive Psychology
  • The Right to Privacy in Modern America
  • Experimenting with Philanthropy
  • On the Record: Communicating for the Government
  • Introduction to Sports Management (an online course)
  • Microfinance

Tufts students continue to amaze us with their ability to tackle challenging topics, projects, and discussions in the classroom, and we can’t wait to see what this semester has in store for our ExCollege classes!

Diving into ExCollege Course Selection

In less than one week, the ExCollege Board will convene to make the final decisions regarding what courses will be offered during the spring semester at our Money Meeting. The Money Meeting is an all-day meeting where the Board members vote on what courses should be offered to Tufts students for the upcoming semester. Their voting decisions are informed by faculty reviews of the course proposals as well as feedback received from interviewing the candidates.

Each member of the Board, students, faculty, and ExCollege staff alike, receives equal voting power, an ExCollege policy that has carried on from the earliest days of the Board. The Board first met in May 1964 and quickly broke the established Tufts tradition by inviting 3 students to sit-in on Board meetings. By 1966, the Board unanimously agreed that the 4 student representatives on the Board would be granted full voting rights. From these early ExCollege moments, the ExCollege became a natural liaison between students and faculty while also functioning as an institution that both students and faculty use to shape the academic and social landscape of Tufts. Now our Board consists of an equal number of students and faculty (5 each) which allows for comprehensive discussions of programs, courses, and ideas from multiple perspectives.

The ExCollege continues to stand as a student-centric department, and we always want students directly involved in decisions that are made. This is especially true when the ExCollege dives into the process of selecting courses. We want to offer courses that challenge students, use innovative teaching methods, cover unique topics, and (of course) are courses that Tufts students want to take. As we head into the Money Meeting next week, the Board will certainly have some lively conversation about what should and should not be included in the ExCollege course line-up.  Our discussions and decisions are sure to lead to a great group of courses for Tufts students to take in the spring!

A Look at Medical Spanish

Written by Benji Cohen, A11 and summer graduate intern

Background: In 2008, a Tufts student approached the ExCollege with an idea. As a soon-to-be medical school student, he wanted to put his Spanish skills to use with his patients. However, he felt that his more traditional Spanish language education did not give him the full skill set necessary to interact with people as a medical professional in a hospital.

The ExCollege gave the student the opportunity to reach out to prospective instructors for a course entitled “Medical Spanish,” and the student received a few applications from interested individuals. Ultimately, Josep Vicente was chosen as the “Medical Spanish” instructor. Josep Vicente, an interpreter at many local hospitals, sought to meet the immense demand for Spanish-speaking health professionals.

First Taught: Fall 2008.

Status: In the Spring 2013 semester, Josep taught Medical Spanish for the sixth time. The demand for his course among the student body has only increased over time.

What Made it Special: Buttressing the established curriculum at Tufts, Medical Spanish is a practical outlet for Spanish language learners. Josep does more than just provide students with the necessary language and vocabulary training. Through a series of role-playing exercises, his class is imbued with a strong cultural emphasis in order for students to practice how to interact with, while simultaneously assisting, individuals who may not be fluent in English. According to Josep, this dual focus is key because in medical interpretation health professionals must understand both the verbal and the non-verbal cues from patients. As the Latino population in the United States continues to grow, Medical Spanish can literally mean life or death.

Reflection: A Tufts Daily editorial in 2008 applauded Josep’s class for reflecting “the type of cultural fluidity that has come to define our country, while also allowing [Tufts] to adjust to the times.” The editorial lauded Medical Spanish for embodying “what a Tufts education is all about.”

Sex on Campus: As Learning Leads to Action

Next week, the ExCollege will be making its decisions regarding which classes will be offered to Tufts students in the fall! Mimi Arbeit went through this process last semester, and before jumping into the classroom, she wrote about what she hoped to bring to her students. Now teaching ‘Sexual Wellness on College Campuses,’ Mimi demonstrates the type of ExCollege instructor dedicated to establishing a vibrant and innovative classroom for her students in order to expand upon their current experiences at Tufts.

Written by Mimi Arbeit, Visiting Lecturer

I’ve wanted to teach at the Experimental College since I first accepted the offer to join the MA/PhD program at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development here at Tufts. And I knew what I wanted to teach, too. I even had the name of my class: Sex on Campus.

I came to Tufts after spending two years as the sole Health teacher at a middle school in Quincy. I loved teaching Health, and I really loved teaching the Sex Ed portions of Health. I loved being the one cool and collected person in the room while explaining the human reproductive system in detail. But I was also keenly aware that there’s a lot that I can cover with college students that I couldn’t cover in that middle school classroom.

Prior to my first job as a middle school Health teacher, I was, in fact, a college student, much like the people taking my class. I was a student on a campus with its own sexual culture that, over the course of four years, I observed and tried to understand. But what helped me most in college both personally and professionally was becoming a sexual health advocate—hearing from, counseling, and teaching my peers about how to engage in safe and fulfilling sexual experiences and relationships while at college.

And that’s exactly what students in my class will learn to do. I’m not an undergrad at Tufts and this isn’t my campus, so I can’t tell you what’s going on or how to understand it. In my class, the students will collaborate with each other to describe the sexual arena at Tufts as they understand and experience it. Then, they will weigh the strengths and limitations of various research and theories that might help explain what is going on and why. Furthermore, throughout the semester each student will work step by step to plan and prepare an advocacy project designed to optimize some aspect of sexual wellness on campus in some specific way.

I can’t wait to see what my students share with each other and how they choose to impact and contribute to their community here at Tufts. I can’t wait to see how much I learn, personally, from teaching the class.

We could even extend our impact beyond ourselves and beyond our campus. Scholars from many disciplines are paying increased attention to the sexual behaviors and attitudes of our nation’s college students, and they are making all sorts of claims. Journalists, activists, psychologists, sociologists, public health researchers, and other scholars argue over whether hooking up is “bad” for young women, whether hookup “culture” contributes to high rates of sexual assault on college campuses, or whether long-term relationships “should” be a priority for college students. What is the value in these arguments? Whose agenda are they actually serving?

I think all of these questions are distractions from real conversations about sexual justice and communal wellbeing. I think that Tufts students—that my students—need to talk back to these scholars and tell them about the complexity of sex, relationships, safety, and decision-making on campus. In order to do that, students need the opportunity to assess the institutional and cultural forces that constrain and facilitate what they want and what they do. And then, together, they can think critically and creatively about how to promote positive possibilities for sex on campus that make room for themselves and others in a multiplicity of ways.

And I consider it a pleasure and an honor for me to be starting that process with them.