Round 3 at the ExCollege

Written by Sarah Moser, currently teaching ‘Asian Cities in the 21st Century’

This January marks my third semester teaching a course at the Experimental College. I quickly became a fan and promoter of the ExCollege and its unique set of offerings. For me, teaching at the ExCollege is an amazing opportunity to explore topics relating directly to my research interests and expertise that I would not ordinarily get to teach at other institutions. I have taught my fair share of first year requirement courses, and while there is a sound logic behind having a core curriculum for majors, I find my ExCollege courses to be particularly energizing. Designing a one-of-a-kind course that overlaps with my current research and consulting experience is a breath of fresh air that stimulates my research and gives me a chance to integrate the most current and leading-edge material into the classroom.

The main thing that keeps me coming back is the students who take ExCollege courses. I have found Tufts students to be energetic, passionate, engaged in the world around them and rarely shy to take up a debate. They do not take ExCollege courses to simply fill a requirement, but to learn in some depth about a topic that is not offered in any other department. Because my own interests and background are interdisciplinary in focus, I structure my course content to be as interdisciplinary as possible, with readings from urban studies, planning, anthropology, geography, environmental studies, architecture and more. As a result, my classes tend to attract students from a variety of majors and nationalities. In one of my ExCollege classes we did a tally and discovered that there were more languages spoken by people in the class than there were people in the class!

This diversity of views, backgrounds and life experiences greatly enriches the discussions in the class. And it is the class discussions that form the core of each ExCollege class I have taught. From what I have experienced, Tufts students are keenly aware of the value of class discussions and are active learners. Jumbos are generally not the students who are content to sit quietly in the back row and just take notes. Out of the muddiness, confusion and at times tension of classroom discussions emerge flashes of understanding, of new insights, of original ideas and true critical thinking.

It is these ‘flashes’ of collaborative thought and originality that make teaching so deeply satisfying. To me, the ExCollege is the ideal mechanism to engineer such moments. As professors, we are provided with the tools we need to teach to our maximum potential: a group of passionate and highly capable students and the freedom and creative space to teach to our strengths and interests.

I have taught a course called ‘Planned Cities: Power, Ideology and Identity’ twice over the past two years and am now teaching ‘Asian Cities in the 21st Century’. In my current class, we are examining cities in a broad variety of geographical locations and a range of themes, including ‘green’ cities, social / cultural / economic / environmental sustainability, ‘creative’ cities, heritage, tourism, etc. While we are still at the beginning of the semester, I can tell already that it is going to be another fun, stimulating and dynamic class. When students asked last week if we could celebrate Lunar New Year in class this February, I decided to add a component about Chinatowns in Asian cities to justify eating Chinese take-out in class as part of the festivities. Never a dull moment in ExCollege classes!

The Interview Subcommittee: A Must-do Before You Graduate

Written by Erica Rigby, A’15 and student interviewer

There’s something to be said when students are offered the chance to sit on the other end of the interview table, influencing whether the prospective instructor before them is going to drive home all of the ExCollege values we’ve come to know and love. Being on an interview subcommittee sheds light on the vast number of intellectuals in our world who can teach classes. For the student who volunteers, it’s a mere three hours in a morning or afternoon that suits your schedule. Being on a subcommittee reveals the best qualities of our learning community, and ultimately deepens your Jumbo pride.

The handful of enthusiastic Tufts alumni who propose courses, some of whom graduated in the 1950’s and 1960’s, provided the most touching moments for me as the student interviewer.  These folks brought you a huge grin. They entered the room garnered in Tufts jerseys and baseball caps, carrying a briefcase of photos from their glory days as a student here. When asked why they wanted to teach their course, they expressed heartfelt desires to be present on the big hill and give back to the learning community that enriched them as a youth. This one older, eccentric Jumbo came into the room with the idea to watch detective films each week and discuss them with students over popped corn. They are thrilled by the prospect of an intergenerational, intellectual Jumbo journey.

How will you treat the topic sensitively? Can you describe how you envision the 2 ½ hours your class meets once a week? What sort of student do you envision signing up for this?  How can we pull in students who are international? Does it aim to integrate humanities and sciences? How will this strengthen the student as an active citizen? Can we make this global? These are some of the things we pin on our prospective instructors when we’re learning their visions for the semester. Through the series of inquiries, the values of Tufts arise: social consciousness, active citizenship, interdisciplinary thought, and global mindedness. Being an interviewer in general brings you a deeper pride in this Jumbo nation.

Processing Applications!

Now is the time of year when we are actively gearing  up for Fall 2013 courses. The journey is a long one for the courses proposed, and right now we are at the point where we will be interviewing candidates for the 22 positions open in the fall. Check out this infographic to see the steps required for choosing upcoming ExCollege classes!

Musings of a 2nd Year Student Worker

Written by Marcy Regalado, A’15.

The Experimental College: an idea that bubbled into my mind when attempting to figure out what exactly this could mean to a small freshman looking for an ordinary student job on campus, though this was no ordinary department executing ordinary tasks. No, the Experimental College reconfigures the rigid frame of what courses a university may offer to its students. The interdisciplinary ExCollege courses allow students to dive into topics with a new lens or focus, assisted by the expert(s) teaching the class.

There are always people here pushing the envelope and reinventing the ordinary and the expected; people who bring attention to exciting topics and subtopics yet to be examined. Our instructors are the experts in their fields. Wouldn’t you want to have a full-access pass to the expert of a burgeoning subject that enables you to look at a topic through a unique perspective? Working behind the scenes at the ExCollege allows me as a student worker to get first-hand access to these fresh ideas—to the ideas that add an edge to a subject, draw attention to an obscure (but very important!) field, or build a bridge between two topics that you never would have thought possible.

Working for the ExCollege has given me a look into what education can really do. Education at the collegiate level becomes more of an investigation rather than a fact collecting anthology. The ExCollege brings the investigative topics that students deem important off of a piece of paper (the application) and into the classroom. It is fascinating to take part in the process of determining what course proposals will ultimately make it into Tufts’ classrooms.

We receive about 145 course applications for approximately 23 spots. Getting to work one-on-one with Robyn Gittleman (Director), Howard Woolf (Associate Director), and Cindy Stewart (Assistant Director) on these course proposals is always the best part of my job. It’s refreshing to be in conversation and working with adults that are looking out for the best interests of the students. The ExCollege openly welcomes the opinions of Tufts’ students, and the college respects, listens to, and considers all suggestions made. The course evaluations that we receive at the end of each semester are taken into account for future courses, and the ExCollege continuously uses these evaluations to enhance the student experience through new initiatives, programs, and classes.

My friends are always asking me what the ExCollege is doing, what courses we are offering, and what resources we have for Tufts students. The ExCollege is a department that puts the student first. It highlights interdisciplinary subjects.

It’s where ideas are made into challenging and insightful courses. The ExCollege gives me the privilege to be a part of a department that puts innovative ideas in the classroom for Tufts students to challenge themselves and to gain new perspectives.

Here it goes, here it goes, here it goes again

As I write this, my computer screen displays this word document as well as one ginormous spreadsheet. This spreadsheet is not just any ordinary numbers-y (clearly I have been thoroughly trained in the secret arts of Excel) spreadsheet. This spreadsheet spans columns and columns and exists for one reason: to coordinate interviews for over 100 ExCollege applicants.

The ExCollege offers interviews to a good portion of potential instructors. The interviews serve as our method of getting into their heads, to sneak around a little bit and to understand how the paper version of the course will translate into real life. Subcommittees consisting of two current students and one faculty member interview all of the applicants. Each subcommittee usually meets for 2 to 3 hours and interviews 4 to 6 applicants. With the 100 or so applicants called in for an interview, it means that I get the oh so exciting task of piecing together the schedules of about 20 faculty members, 45 students, and 100 applicants into approximately 21 neat and tidy subcommittees.

When I first got this job, Melissa Burke (last year’s Program Assistant) fully warned me that this was a task that many would balk at. She showed me her spreadsheet, and my senior self giggled a little and thought “eh, not too bad.” My senior self was so so wrong.

Cindy Stewart (the ExCollege’s Assistant Director and secret wizard) told me that the subcommittee puzzle equated to one massive GRE puzzle. (She is absolutely 100% correct, and I’m glad that I am getting some GRE practice…because I have yet to open my GRE practice book, oops.) To solve this puzzle, I need a few things:

  1. Coffee (personal favorite: a Voldemort from the Res)
  2. A mountain of paper clips (to clip together the hard copies of everyone’s schedules into subcommittees)
  3. The correct brain mode (an awake brain = a productive brain)

When all of these things align, I begin madly scheduling for a few days. After the spreadsheet comes together, I sigh, take a victory lap, and call all of the applicants. Yes. I do call each and every applicant to let them know about their pending interview. Despite this taking a few hours, I love this part of subcommittee scheduling because people get excited!! Really truly excited! I feel like I’m magic and just raining down happiness on the people I call—it’s a pretty good feeling after the end of a very long process.

The Proposal: A Process of Idea Babies, I Do’s and Engagement

Written by Nick Golden, Marcy Regalado, and Beky Stiles

Every semester, a new list of Experimental College courses appears on our website. This magical listing jumps across disciplines and contains unique courses like “A History of Pir‘arrrgh’cy” (I’m sorry…I couldn’t resist…). Each hand-crafted class goes through an intensive series of steps (I would say the academic equivalent to the Tough Mudder) to make it from proposal to classroom. The competition for a spot at the ExCollege begins with approximately 150 applicants, and it is the difficult duty of the Board to whittle that number down to 22.

The Idea

From scribbling down a thought in the middle of the night to being inspired by a project at work, ideas for courses pop up in very interesting ways. Professionals propose topics based on techniques and strategies used in the work place, grad students share ideas embedded within personal experience and their research, and current educators piece together dynamic courses related to contemporary issues. The ExCollege wants to hear from passionate and knowledgeable people; people who want to share their lives, knowledge, and ideas with Tufts students.

Manic Writing

The idea wiggling around in an applicant’s mind manifests itself onto paper and slowly transforms into an elaborate 13-week course syllabus. Applicants research reading ideas, brainstorm class discussions, and carefully craft writing assignments. Even after the creation of the syllabus, applicants must answer 9 other questions posed on the application regarding their background and the creation of the course. (I can only imagine the amounts of caffeine necessary to finish this proposal!)

Submittal

After completing the proposal, many happy applicants jump around excitedly while simultaneously hugging housemates and partners (this would be my chosen method of displaying post-proposal adrenaline-fueled excitement). The finalized proposal then finds itself sitting comfortably in an envelope destined for 95 Talbot Avenue. A few brave souls even follow their feet to Tufts to hand deliver their proposal to our front desk. (Note to self: invest in some ‘I submitted my ExCollege proposal!!’ stickers for future semesters.)

Bins & Processing!

New proposals get handed over to a student worker at our secret back desk. After skimming through the proposal to check out the syllabus, the student plunks the proposal in a bin to get copied, filed, scanned, and entered into our database.

Faculty Reviews

Robyn Gittleman (our Director) reads through each proposal and pieces together which proposals get sent to which faculty members. The newly scanned PDF versions of proposals electronically zip over to approximately 115 faculty members all across the Hill. After clicking on the PDF attachment and reading through the proposal, faculty members provide input on the depth, challenge, and clarity of the syllabus in addition to any overlap with existing Tufts classes.

Subcommittees, Subcommittees, and Even More Subcommittees

Subcommittees represent one of the most important steps in the course selection process. Subcommittees comprised of one faculty member and two students interview each candidate. The schedules of over 40 super busy Tufts students, 20 faculty members, and 150 applicants must be coordinated into 20 neat and tidy subcommittees. Beky Stiles (me! the Program Assistant) drinks enormous amounts of coffee during this task.

The subcommittee members ask applicants about the proposal, its creation, their background, and the purpose of the course. Subcommittees allow the ExCollege to receive crucial feedback as to how a proposal would translate into the classroom environment.

Selection

The ExCollege Board (made up of 5 students, 5 faculty, and the ExCollege staff) holes up in the conference room for an all-day meeting to determine what courses will make it to the coveted ‘Upcoming Courses’ list on the ExCollege website. The Board spends hours drinking caffeine, voting, and (most importantly) discussing the proposals. At the end of the day, the Board hand picks 22 strong courses that exemplify the ExCollege’s commitment to providing Tufts with innovative classes meant to expand upon the existing undergraduate curriculum.

The Class

Tufts students scurry to register for their top ExCollege choices at 9am on the first day of classes. Classes fill up quickly, and a former idea nudging at the back of someone’s mind finally becomes a reality.

Take a Class!

Now you should check out the 23 classes that made it through this process! Our list of upcoming courses is on our website for Spring 2013! Make your list of ExCollege class to take, and register at 9am on Wednesday, January 16.

 

The Express!

Friday, December 7: The Last Express of the Semester

Be a part of the ExCollege!

If you have ever wanted to command a classroom, think about joining either the Explorations or Perspectives freshmen seminar programs as a Peer Leader! Our Peer Leaders co-teach a seminar, lead their students through orientation, and act as student advisors during the fall semester. Going abroad in the spring but still want to teach in the fall? Our application is available on our website and can be submitted online! Check out the FAQs about Explorations and Perspectives, and download the application today.

Gearing up for the spring!

Despite the warm weather still months away, we over here at the ExCollege have already set our sights on the upcoming semester. Since the deadline for spring course proposals on October 5, our office has worked to whittle through the pile to bring Tufts students the very best ExCollege offerings for next semester. The ExCollege Board will come together for a daylong meeting next week to finalize what 22 courses will claim both a classroom and room full of Tufts students. A preliminary list of spring classes will be listed on our website on December 14.

Registration for all ExCollege courses begins at 9am on the first day of spring semester classes, Wednesday, January 16. All Wednesday ExCollege courses will begin the night of January 16!

Stay updated on all things ExCollege

Like Facebook, Twitter, and blogging? So do we! Be sure to catch up with us online to stay on top of the latest ExCollege news.

Semester in Review

When the temperature drops and students huddle in Tisch cubicles with caffeine in one hand and a textbook in the other, you know the end of the semester is near. As the ExCollege wraps up another semester, we took the time to reminisce about the past four months. The ExCollege tackled some major milestones this fall:

  • Welcoming in and training 30 new Perspectives and Explorations Leaders
  • Beginning preparation for our 50th Anniversary (April 2014—mark your calendars!)
  • Creating a brand new database to digitize the course proposal reading process
  • Reaching out to Admissions to create ExCollege videos and articles for the Admissions website and magazine
  • Planning and running the Election Night Extravaganza 2012
  • Supporting 23 phenomenal Visiting Lecturer courses
  • Watching Howard Woolf’s film premiere of Marranos
  • Holding the first ever Perspectives Olympics

Phew! This long list certainly kept us busy this semester, and after we take a quick moment to inhale, our office will continue to put together the course offerings for the spring semester. To check out pictures and descriptions of our fall events, head over to our Facebook album!

In the Classroom

Instructor A. David Lewis and his class “Religion and the Graphic Novel” invited artist JT Waldman, who worked with Harvey Pekar on the graphic novel “Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me,” to speak in their last class. Dave opened the discussion to both Tufts students not enrolled in his class and the entire online community! The Sequart Research and Literary Organization broadcasted the talk live, and Dave recently uploaded a full unedited version of JT Waldman’s talk at Tufts to YouTube! Stay tuned for Dave’s edited cut of the class.

Need a study break before diving head first into reading period? Attend the Comedy Night in Hotung, hosted and presented by the students of Steve Kapica’s “Analyzing Stand-up Comedy” class. These comedians will each give a five minute set to the crowd in Hotung. Stop by Hotung on Monday, December 10 to chortle with some friends, cheer on your peers, and celebrate the last day of fall semester classes! The event begins at 8:30pm and will run until 11pm.

And the winner is…

After an intense competition last Friday, the Sidekicks in Film class earned the right to call themselves the first ever champions of Perspectives Olympics! Despite the very close race among teams throughout the scavenger hunt, Scene It trivia game, and talent show, the Sidekicks class ultimately won and put on a great talent show performance with their take on the now classic Napoleon Dynamite dance.

To get a glimpse into the Games, take a look at the Twitter feed for #PerspectivesOlympics and scroll through the @ExCollege page for pictures collected along the scavenger hunt. All teams, Sports Movies (aka Team Denzel), Hollywood’s Army, Films of Genocide (aka Team Didn’t See Us Coming), and Sidekicks showed some great competitive spirit and made the first ever Perspectives Olympics a success!

Did You Know…

The first board of the ExCollege was composed of faculty members representing four different fields: engineering, social science, natural science, and humanities, with one member-at-large. Almost immediately after convening, the board broke from Tufts tradition by including students in the decision-making process of the college. By the spring of 1966, the board unanimously agreed that its four student members be given full voting rights.

Around Campus

Make sure to get your fill of all things Jumbo before heading off of the Hill for winter break! Scroll through full listings of the final events of the semester on both Tufts Events and TuftsLife. Keep reading for two great upcoming programs!

  • Love filmmaking? Watch the final film projects of the ‘Producing Films for Social Change’ class!

The Communications and Media Studies (CMS) Department will be holding this annual screening on Tuesday, December 11 at 7pm in Tisch 304. Support your peers and your friends as three groups of students present their final films! The films include The Receipt of Happiness, a film by Robert Collins, Grace Demyan, Jacob Passy, and Doug Stone, Finding Refuge, by Charmaine Poh, Maya Navon, and Annie Garau, and The Day After Tomorrow, by Ethan Freedman, Yijia Wang, and Gabriela Ros. For more details and insight into these films, head over to the CMS website and join the Facebook group!

  • Enjoy dance? Check out the end of the semester Kiniwe performance!

This year’s Kiniwe performance includes new choreography by director Nani Agbeli. The pieces represent strong connections to the Ewe tradition of Ghana. Follow your feet to the Distler Performance Hall on Sunday, December 9! Kiniwe begins at 8pm and runs until 10pm. Get more Kiniwe details on the Music Department website.

The Big Day is Finally Here!

For the past two and a half months our staff here at the ExCollege has been eagerly anticipating today. Why, you might ask? Today is the deadline for visiting lecturer proposal applications! It’s the day when we get to see what exciting topics various people have come up with to teach to our Tufts undergrads. Here is a sampling of some course titles that I’ve seen so far today: “Protecting Your Rights with the Constitution and a Computer”, “Eros of the Impossible”, “Lady Gaga: The Art of Performance and Fame”, and “The Catholic Church in Nicaragua”. Needless to say we have quite a variety of topics to choose from! While we do a lot of interesting things here at the ExCollege, getting to see the different topics that are proposed each semester is definitely the highlight of working here. Continue reading