Learning to Teach in New Ways

Thursday, May 17, 2012
Humanities Writ Large

Ann Marie Rasmussen

I am Professor Ann Marie Rasmussen and I wanted to share the experience that the Rivalrous Masculinity Working Group had recently when we hosted a visit by Anne McClanan, a Professor of Byzantine Art History at Portland State University. She earned her PhD at Harvard, her MA at Johns Hopkins, and her BA at Columbia, so she came with a great deal of scholarly expertise in the area on which our course will be focusing.

One of the principal reasons we brought Anne to Duke was for the tremendous insight she has developed into the online learning environment. For the past seven years her courses have been almost entirely online or hybrid (face-to-face and online). Rather than adapting the old models, she has developed fresh student-centered approaches that take full advantage of the new environment.

When she designs a course, she works hard to create a scaffolding assignment structure so students learn by building on what they've already done. Her role in the learning process is not to deliver lectures as a "sage on the stage" but to curate the material and provide a means to process it. She has the students engage each other, too, using online forum discussions and peer review of writing. When students know their peers will be reading their work, the writing is better — they don't want to embarrass themselves.

We had some wonderful discussions about the course we are offering this Fall and the exhibition that will follow in 2014 at the Nasher Museum. Anne shared her ideas about experiential learning and about increasing interactivity with the students. And she introduced us to an awesome resource — Smarthistory, a free and open art history textbook produced by the Khan Academy.

We had a great talk about the necessity of 'estranging' masculinity. Teaching about masculinity is a little like teaching about whiteness: it is for many the norm against which all else is measured, so familiar and structural that it has become invisible. One of the chief goals of our teaching and our exhibition is to create and engage some sense of alterity, of the constructedness of masculinity. We want it to stand on its own as one of many cultural modes, all of them equally free to speak for the diversity of human experience.

For the exhibition, we hope to have the class produce collaborative podcasts. It will be important for the audio material to complement the wall texts, not repeat them. We may use other new media, but only if it enriches the classroom and the exhibition. It has to have a clear point; otherwise it tends to be gimmicky. I would also like the students to keep a research experience blog where they write and reflect about the process, about its ups and downs and the funny things that happen along the way. The individual blogs could then be raw material for a public narrative about the course.

We might also set up a kiosk for the exhibition, and there are many other fascinating and fun ideas to consider. But it's very important to remember that the class products will be part of a public exhibition. High quality is a must.

We are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead of us, as teachers and scholars, and those that lie ahead of our students, whose learning we believe will be much richer for this experience.

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Professor of German

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