The ExCollege and the Future of Higher Education

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

Written by Ken Garden, Religion Department and ExCollege Board Chair

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

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

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

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

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

——————————————————————————

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

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!

Our Taste of Tufts Series: A Full Re-cap

The Taste of Tufts series initiated in 2012 aims to bring together faculty, staff, and students through the sharing of the amazing and ground-breaking research being done at Tufts. This fall, the ExCollege welcomed 4 faculty members to speak about their research and to initiate dialogue with a diverse audience. We’ve compiled a detailed listing of all Taste of Tufts lectures from this past fall so you can get a glimpse into the awesome things happening on our campus!

Ben Hescott, Computer Science

Professor Ben Hescott from Computer Science spoke as the opener of our Fall 2013 Taste of Tufts series. Professor Hescott dove into describing how the protein-protein interaction network is a collection of thousands and thousands of pairs of genes in some relationship. He compared this network to a social network like Facebook, where the ‘relationships’ can be represented as a graph. Professor Hescott informed the audience that in leveraging that information, we can actually devise new algorithms for biological discovery. According to Professor Hescott, his research presents algorithms using the protein-protein interaction network to discover compensatory pathways in yeast. These pathways are life’s “back-up” system and can be found using only high throughput data modeled like a social network.

Cathy Stanton, Anthropology

Earlier today, Cathy Stanton of the Anthropology Department spoke at our second Taste of Tufts lecture of the semester. She described her work studying traditional communities that have made their home on land now owned and managed by the National Park Service. Stanton has studied groups as diverse as the factory-worker Polish immigrant community in Salem, MA, engaging in what she calls “salvage ethnography,” to looking at how a traditionally run farm operates in the context of contemporary agricultural practices in Columbia County, NY. Most recently, the National Park Service asked Stanton to study the community of seasonal residents on Peddocks Island in Boston Harbor. Stanton said that although the traditional residents of the island were from three separate communities — Portuguese fishermen, summer residents who came to the island when cottages and hotels were built, and the officers and soldiers who were stationed at Fort Andrews on the island’s East Head — after five generations and years of intermarriage, the islanders now share a cohesive identity and sense of community that Stanton says is very much bound up in the unique place in which they’ve come together.

Read the full Tufts Daily article here.

Kelly McLaughlin, Biology

Earlier today, Professor Kelly McLaughlin of the Biology Department spoke at our Taste of Tufts lecture, discussing her work in developmental biology. McLaughlin works with South African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis) as a model organism to study organ development and regeneration, specifically that of hearts and kidneys. According to McLaughlin, these frogs are ideal model organisms because they can be easily manipulated as embryos, their tissues can be explanted and transplanted, and because they’re transparent while developing, researchers can see their hearts beating and fluids pumping in their kidneys through their skin. McLaughlin’s lab looks at what effects turning on and off various genes within these frogs’ genomes have on their organ development. Some of the most fascinating work she’s done recently, though, arose after some of her colleagues asked her why so many frogs are disappearing. The answer? An herbicide called atrazine interferes with the frogs’ genetic pathways responsible for development, causing them to metamorphose into frogs before their bodies are physically capable of doing so.

Read the full Tufts Daily article here

Stephen Bailey, Anthropology

Dr. Stephen Bailey of the Anthropology Department joined us today for the final Taste of Tufts presentation of the academic year. Dr. Bailey spoke on his research looking at the growth and development of people living in high altitude climates. The majority of Dr. Bailey’s latest research focused on children living in Tibet. He and his colleagues looked at how elementary school children of different nationalities faired under the same environmental stressors. Going into the study, he stated that he and his team thought that adaptation to high elevations fell under the idea of “one size fits all” in that every human would adapt similarly to being at a high elevation. However, after diving further into his research, Dr. Bailey uncovered this to be untrue. Based on an individual’s genetic background, there are actually multiple ways of adapting to the high elevations both physically and physiologically!

Read the full Tufts Daily article here.

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 Express!

Friday, February 1

Join the ExCollege: Become a Board Member or a Peer Leader!

Dive into the inner-workings of the ExCollege by joining the ExCollege Board or becoming an Explorations or Perspectives Peer Leader.

The ExCollege Board consists of 5 faculty members and 5 students and meets once per month. The Board tackles policy, discusses ExCollege initiatives and programs, and ultimately decides what courses will be offered to all Tufts students each semester. Each Board meeting allows both student and faculty members to plan ahead for the ExCollege while offering a welcoming atmosphere where everyone’s voice is heard. Download an application now and submit it to the ExCollege by February 22nd.

Have you ever wanted to teach at Tufts? Consider becoming a Peer Leader through the Explorations or Perspectives programs. Teams of two upperclassmen lead a first-year seminar in addition to acting as orientation leaders and mentors for their group of first-year students. Design your own course, earn 1.5 credits, and have a great teaching experience! Check out the FAQs for both programs, download an application, and submit your course proposal by March 13th. You can even head over to our blog to read about the experience of a Fall 2012 Explorations leader, John Dame. An Information Meeting for both Explorations and Perspectives will be held on Tuesday, February 5th at 9:30pm in Room 220 of the Campus Center.

A Taste of Tufts Review: Sam Sommers

Written by Lenea Sims, A15 & ExCollege student worker

With the new semester comes a new lineup of A Taste of Tufts! Sponsored by your very own Experimental College and supported by the SPIRIT Fund, A Taste of Tufts is a lecture series dedicated to bringing some of Tufts finest professors in front of a crowd that may not normally get to see them speak. This semester’s series began today with Associate Professor Sam Sommers from the Psychology department. Professor Sommers opened up his talk—titled “Examining Racial Diversity: A Behavioral Science Approach”—by acknowledging the differing views often surrounding his topic. “There’s a lot of discussion and debate about diversity,” he said. “It’s a particularly controversial and polarizing concept.”

After briefly acknowledging the ethical and legal side of the debate, he quickly turned to what he knows best, saying, “What are the effects of diversity? How can we study the question of diversity empirically that tells us something about the societal effects?” He then dove into some of the more recent studies done in his lab at Tufts; each one completed with the aid of undergraduate and graduate students whose names he happily credits in his findings. In one, for example, he found that when white students interact with someone of a different race, they often experience more anxiety and show signs of cognitive depletion—symptoms that they don’t nearly as often display when working with another white student. In other words, when faced with dealing with someone of a different race, students became so concerned about making that person like them, that they became mentally exhausted.

Professor Sommers closed his talk and took a few questions, ending by reminding students to always go into situations looking to have a genuine connection rather than worrying about if the person they were dealing with would like them in the end. It’s a concept he admits is a bit “Mr. Rogers-sounding,” but we can all agree that it’s certainly a nice outlook to have.

Updated Taste of Tufts Schedule

After some minor shuffling around, the ExCollege has updated its schedule for this semester’s Taste of Tufts presentations. Be sure to reserve every Friday from 12pm—1pm on your calendar to catch up on the latest faculty research.

  • February 8: Ken Garden, Religion
  • February 15: Nina Gerassi-Navarro, Romance Languages
  • February 22: Anthony Monaco, President
  • March 1: Mary Davis, Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning
  • March 8: TBA
  • March 29: Ayanna Thomas, Psychology
  • April 5: Benjamin Hescott, Computer Science
  • April 12: Noe Montez, Drama and Dance
  • April 19: David Harris, Provost and Senior Vice President

Sneak Peek into the Annual Newsletter

Each year, the ExCollege produces a massive newsletter, the E-News, to update current students, faculty members, staffers, and alumni on the most important ExCollege news. A range of articles are written by various authors for a wide range of perspectives! You can look forward to reading articles by:

  • Sara Harari, A12 and creator of “A Taste of Tufts”
  • John Harrison, A12 and former ExCollege student worker
  • Sarah Moser, returning Visiting Lecturer of “Asian Cities in the 21st Century”
  • Mimi Arbeit, Visiting Lecturer of “Sexual Wellness on College Campuses”
  • Kumar Ramanthan, A15 and student ExCollege Board member
  • Phil Starks, ExCollege Board chair
  • Madeline Hall, A13 and former Explorations Leader
  • Samantha Tye, A13 and former Perspectives Leader
  • Robyn Gittleman, Director of the ExCollege
  • Howard Woolf, Associate Director of the ExCollege
  • Beky Stiles, A12 and ExCollege Program Assistant

Be on the lookout for the latest edition of the E-News in late February! In the meantime, glance over archived newsletters to learn about previous ExCollege endeavors.

Still searching for the perfect study group?

Worried about that upcoming test or confused by your homework? Don’t know anyone in your class yet? JumboStudy, a new mobile peer-to-peer study service, can help! Log on at http://jumbostudy.tufts.edu to view available study groups for your classes or propose new study groups. Where and what you study is up to you! For more information, check out http://sites.tufts.edu/atfellows/projects/jumbostudy/.

Did you know…

Every year the ExCollege receives over 140 course proposals from professionals, grad students, educators, and more in the greater-Boston area wanting to teach. The process to whittle that number down to 22/23 takes an entire semester of sending out solicitation materials, processing each application, interviewing each candidate, and holding the full-day Board meeting in order to finalize the upcoming semester’s course list.

Around Campus

New semesters always bring about a lot of ‘firsts’: first semester trip to the Rez, first day of classes, first Sunday Sundae (& Thursday), and (of course) first special event of the semester. If you haven’t yet attended an event, make your first event outing one to remember! Check out these upcoming programs, and be sure to scroll through TuftsLife and Tufts Events for even more insight into happenings on the Hill.

  • Get your art on by heading over to a Tomasso Lecture!

The Department of Art and Art History presents “Michelangelo, Bandinelli, and Bernini: The Long Goodbye.” This Tomasso Lecture will be given by Dr. Maria Loh of University College London. Head over to Granoff 155 at 5:30pm on Monday, February 4th to dive into the world of art history. See the full event flyer here.

  • Want to take your business idea to the next level?

The Tufts $100K Business Plan Competition is gearing up for 2013! An Information Session will be held on Wednesday, February 6th from 12pm to 1pm in Anderson’s Burden Lounge. Be a part of one of the country’s biggest university-sponsored competitions, and earn money to transform your idea into a business. Submissions are due February 22nd.