A 21st Century Leap for the ExCollege

live-1003646__340What is by far the fastest growing sector at Tufts?

No, not the number of national championship sports teams, although that would be a good guess. And no, not the number of Comp Sci majors, even though that’s another good guess.

The answer is graduate students. Yes, while their presence still may be hard to discern, in fact the graduate student population on the Medford campus has doubled in ten years — to nearly 2500. Now that’s a significant change.

And while grad students have always had a presence in the ExCollege as instructors, the sample has been small and in a certain sense accidental.

It was high time for us to get out ahead of the curve. So when the graduate school came calling early in the year, looking for our help, we jumped at the chance.

Three initiatives emerged.

The first, which in hindsight, seems like a no brainer, was perhaps the most “radical.” For fifty years the ExCollege’s governing board has been comprised of equal numbers of faculty and undergraduates. Indeed, when the ExCollege was given a permanent charter as a department back in 1979, this organizational structure was explicitly spelled out.

As the new director of the ExCollege, I felt it was the right time to add a graduate student to the board. So it fell to me to determine whether or not I would push to break with tradition or maintain our mandated status quo. Would there be “strict constructionists” among the current board members? Or would they be willing to interpret the charter in a manner that reflects the unforeseen changes in the student body?

Happily, there was nothing to fight about. The board quickly and unanimously voted to add a graduate student representative. And based on recommendations from the Graduate Student Council, Seth Rothschild, a PhD candidate in Mathematics, was accorded the honor of being the first ever.

The second and third initiatives both grew out of new trends in graduate education.

On the one hand, it seems that more and more PhDs are looking to build careers outside the academy, hoping to take their highly specialized skill set into every major profession one can imagine. For this cohort, the need to experience on-the-ground training has become critical. With this in mind, the ExCollege, in partnership with the Graduate School and Alumni Relations, started a new program, one designed to meet this need, called Professional Development Fellowships wherein advanced grad students will shadow a professional for a week over winter break.

On the flip side of the coin, those grad students who want a career as academics have found that, unlike years past, their experience and/or training as teachers has become a key factor in the university job market. Addressing this issue became, I think it’s fair to say, our most important endeavor this year. With the blessing of the Graduate School, we established the Robyn Gittleman Graduate Teaching Fellowship program for advanced graduate students looking to develop solid teaching skills.

Named in honor of our Director Emeritus, who devoted her professional life to furthering the cause of university teaching, the program attracted an impressive cohort of applicants eager for the experience. It also won a Tufts Innovates Grant (which is given to help kick start new ideas), secured additional funding from the Janover Family (who support our Voices from the Edge lecture series), and has already garnered gifts from alums who want to contribute in celebration of Robyn’s career and passions.

13255917_10153778740892572_2489340888281956062_nCome the fall, the inaugural class of eight advanced graduate students will teach courses in the ExCollege and will meet with me, individually and as part of a regular roundtable discussion, in what we’ve come to call “curated” teacher training.

Stay tuned for updates as to how this “experiment” goes!

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?”

thumbnail-4

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!

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)?

project1

 

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:

1*eQ_5z_iz6yHeT_FJSwd3rw

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!

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!