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

 

 

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

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!

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.

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.

Teaching Perspectives

Written by Samantha Tye (A13), co-teacher of the Perspectives seminar ‘Films of Genocide.’

I can only imagine the thoughts going through my students’ heads the first time that we met as a group. Sofi Shield and I started out full speed ahead asking for names and dorms and hometowns. We wanted to hear about summer adventures while we simultaneously spewed out advice. I knew we were talking a mile a minute, but our excitement to meet our freshmen was too strong to contain. After about ten minutes of our premature advice-giving, one brave student raised her hand and asked, “Wait, isn’t this a class about genocide?”

I guess it wasn’t clear to our freshmen that during orientation week we would act as their advisors; help them get acclimated to campus and registered for their first semester. The stark contrast between new school year excitement and the somber topic of genocide added to the hilarity of the moment. Sofi and I burst out in laughter, realizing how absurd we must have seemed. The class was sitting patiently, ready to delve into crimes against humanity, and there we were, blabbing about our favorite professors. We quickly explained the misunderstanding, and our students joined in with laughter of their own. Needless to say, this broke the ice and set a wonderful tone for the remainder of our semester together.

It is hard to say what my favorite part of each week’s class was. Even as the semester went on, our freshmen never ceased to amaze us with their insight and perspective on the films we watched. They expressed wonderful commentary about portraying genocide through film and thoughtfully spoke about ethical dilemmas within the genre. I truly believe that I learned as much as the students did about genocide films. Sofi and I learned even more about being leaders, working with others and conducting a class.

On a simpler but equally enjoyable note, our weekly check-in at the beginning of each class was refreshing and allowed for continual relationship-building. I think all of us—teachers and students alike—really appreciated the twenty minutes we took to shares highs and lows of the previous week. We got to congratulate successes and suggest solutions for troubles. Our classroom environment was unlike that of any “traditional” Tufts classroom experience. Sofi and I were much more our students’ equals rather than their superiors.

Sometimes, when Sofi and I would be drawing up lesson plans, we would refer to our students as the “little ones.” We would quickly correct ourselves, however, because it didn’t feel right to establish that much distance from our students. Far before the end of the semester, we realized the “little ones” were first and foremost our friends and peers.

What if you could major in the ExCollege?

I asked our student workers to imagine a world in which you could major in the ExCollege. I asked them to tell me what courses they would take this spring to fulfill the requirements for this very unique major. This is the response I received from Lynne Koester, senior, English major, and ExCollege veteran.

First of all, I essentially am covertly majoring in the ExCollege.  To date, I have taken ten ExCollege classes (including internships) which is more classes than in my declared major of English.  Basically what I’m saying is that the ExCollege should give me a second diploma in May (hint, hint, Robyn).

The ExCollege’s mission is to add breadth to students’ educations that we might not get otherwise from our chosen paths.  I, on the other hand, focus on ExCollege classes because I realized at the beginning of my sophomore year that I wanted to have a career involving Sports Film/Video.  The ExCollege fills the gaps that Tufts’ offered majors leave, and I’ve consistently taken the film and sports classes that the ExCollege offers.

The End of the Year Evaluation for an ExCollege class asks how impactful the class was for each student.  One of the answers is “life changing.”  While that option seems a bit dramatic, I can say with absolute certainty that my college experience, career path, friends, activities—indeed, my life—would be radically different without classes such as Making Movies and Sports Journalism in the Internet Age.

Anyway, clearly I’m the ExCollege’s biggest groupie, so it should come as no surprise that I had a hard time picking which classes I would take if I could officially major in the ExCollege.  Beky asked for four or five, so here are my top…eight.

1. EXP-0050-CS: Media Literacy

I am hoping to take this class somehow despite the fact that I need to have all my evenings free for my internship (also an ExCollege class…) because it sounds amazing and totally applicable for everyone.

2. EXP-0020-S: Forensic Science: An Exploration

I am unclear as to how a class can get cooler.

3. EXP-0030-S: Sabermetrics: The Objective Analysis of Baseball

This is certainly a class I should take, but I know that I would be SO, SO, SO BAD at it, which is exactly why I should take it.  But, you know…got to keep my weeknights free.  Cop out.

4. EXP-0014-S: The Art of Improvisation

One of the teachers of this class is the owner of overall-jorts, which is hilarity I think speaks for itself.

5. EXP-0026-S: Architecture/Music: Sound and the Built Environment

Here’s a combination of two things that always amaze me and that I know less than nothing about.  Also, the teacher is probably one of the nicest people I know.

6. EXP-0033-S: Campus Community Emergency Response Team

Learning CPR and other, um…stuff that can save lives has been on my to-do list forever.  Hopefully not getting around to it won’t have some seriously not good consequences.  I feel like this class should probably just be mandatory for everyone.

7. EXP-0040-S: Positive Psychology Theory and Application

For when singing “Don’t Worry Be Happy” to yourself in the mirror stops working.

8. EXP-0056-CS: Making Movies

As an alum, I’ve got to throw this bad boy in there.  If you have any interest in film, this class will be simultaneously the best and worst thing that will happen to you.

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.