Senior Seminar in Literature and Society. An offering of the course requirement: CMNS 480 “Citizen Issues in a Global Era”
This capstone course, a section of the senior seminar in the Commons (our general education core), explores the interrelationships of literature, culture, and global issues. This course challenges our majority Appalachian, first-generation college students to think critically about complex world issues and to hone skills in information research in order to independently conduct informed conversations about global issues. The course sequence—Citizen Issues in a Global Era—fits into the college mission to create effective citizens through our civic arts curriculum. This particular seminar asked students to explore censorship issues, through texts written by censored, exiled, or assassinated authors. Course delivery offers rare opportunities for our undergraduates. Tusculum College courses run on the block system; students take one course at a time. Since each class session runs for three consecutive hours each day, we had the opportunity to work on a true seminar model. Students gave presentations on each of three countries -- China, India and Africa -- and conducted class discussion following the presentation. They were also responsible for informing themselves about daily world events and researching issues connected to our readings and discussion. We also invited outside speakers and made heavy use of technology both in and out of the classroom. Students used PowerPoint, website information and maps, YouTube, MP3s, library databases, and the Sakai chat room, wiki, links and other Sakai applications. These technologies enabled us to explore a multitude of issues connected to censorship, such as identity politics, global citizenship and post-national identity, cultural exchange and “traveling culture,” government structures, and global communication.
Principle responsibility for course content and design: Dr. Taimi Olsen, Chair, Department of English and Professor of English.
Course consultant: Theresa Swann, Instructional Technologist.
Original course sequence design: Jeff Lokey, Director, Commons Program.
Sakai Training: Theresa Swann; Tim Wiblin and Martin Ramsey, Appalachian College Association.
Technical Support: BJ Roberts, Instructional Technologist.
The Senior Seminar in English was retooled in 2006 to meet the learning outcomes of the Commons senior seminar. The first seminar included a faculty-student trip to the Salzburg seminar on global citizenship (in 2007). The Salzburg curriculum informed my development of the 2009 seminar. The trip also gave rise to the question of how to explore issues of globalization with students who would not have an opportunity to travel abroad as a class. Given Tusculum's regional student body, how can we engage students in global issues and help them speak with some authority about world issues? My classroom design is informed by constructivist principles, so I wanted to provide students with tools that enabled them to connect with the world at large. Students needed not only the means but the incentive to use these tools to engage in high-level dialogue about global culture, texts, and human rights. Several design elements contributed to the high level of engagement in the course:
- Students created their own course objectives, initially writing 24 objectives using Bloom's taxonomy and then selecting three for the syllabus.
- Students were required to read world newspapers daily and discuss news with their peers.
- Students were required to conduct daily research into unfamiliar terms and find information about the countries we studied.
- Students took turns leading a class day: this included lecture and a discussion session.
- Students designed class projects with an emphasis on presenting information publically.
- A trip to Atlanta provided the opportunity to visit the MLK Center, the Carter Center, and the High Museum.
With each design element, students were encouraged and required to use appropriate technologies to locate and share reliable information, to help us visualize our class topics, and to build communication within and outside of class. Three technologies in particular propelled the class forward. Our Sakai site allowed for timely communication within the class as well as collection and dissemination of our class products. Given the fast pace of our block schedule, Sakai is crucial for organizing course content, disseminating work generated in class, and providing a platform for quick discussions through the chat. A Facebook group page was used for postings of photos, videos, and links. I chose the Facebook platform because I wanted to students to connect their personal lives with this class activity-to experience intellectual conversation in a space where they think about world events as part of their lives rather than simply part of the class. Several guests -- alumni and professors -- who originate from our countries of study joined and contributed. (I used Sakai announcements to remind students about posting on Facebook, so I was able to communicate with just students on one platform and with the larger group on the Facebook platform). The third technology which enervated class was multimedia (particularly videos hosted on YouTube and other sites). Our use of technology capitalized on the qualities of millennial students, particularly their attraction to multimedia as a learning environment.
Although the senior seminar is a capstone course, our students often need basic education in world geography, culture, and politics. My section of this seminar centered on texts from different genres (autobiography, nonfiction, fiction, and oral history), and included one "background" text, The Post American World, which provided a popular view of current world politics. As the class attempted to understand each country from which the text originated and whose government or society was critiqued, students directed their own search for background information and contextual research. They were able to do this both during class (using a small computer lab next to our classroom) and through their evening research assignments. Students received credit for bringing news and research back to class the next day and inserting their research into our discussions at appropriate times. Students were instructed on how to ask questions, how to find information, how to evaluate their sources with a critical eye, and how to develop more sophisticated discussion techniques. Therefore, discussions were not led solely by the teacher's agenda but by the student's interests and needs. Furthermore, whenever lack of knowledge became a barrier to understanding the text or furthering our discussion, we had the time, space, and technology to stop and answer our own questions. For instance, understanding Yiwu's oral histories from witnesses of Tiananmen Square required students to understand this incident; most of the students were not familiar at all with Tiananmen or "the Tank Man," so we resorted to a news presentation by Frontline, a reliable U.S. news source. Similarly, understanding Iran and the hostage situation (referenced in Reading Lolita in Tehran) was helped by seeing footage of Carter addressing the nation and by visiting the Carter Center in Atlanta. Students also located maps to help us with China, India and Africa, so that we understood the locations of the provinces. We also used environmental "drill-down" maps to investigate rivers and mountains referenced in The Corpse Walker and in our news reports about floods and other environmental issues in China. Seeing interviews with our authors Yiwu and Soyinko (The Climate of Fear) generated analytical discussions about their character and world-view, as demonstrated through voice tones and body language as well as by answers to interview questions.
Communication was central to this seminar-style class. Students were required to take leadership roles, and several technology options and instructional activities were designed to develop independent learning and leadership skills as well as application of skills in a community environment. Daily research and reading assignments in world news were required. Students used the Facebook discussion platform to share and analyze information and quickly took ownership of this space. For class, students created PowerPoint slideshows and developed lesson plans for their turn at conducting a class session. The classroom was next to a lab available for us to engage in research, so that we could answer questions about our texts and to show videos and share websites. The students took charge in bringing relevant material to each others' attention. Our traditional classroom with its circle of tables was the space for classroom discussions, although even then we had a few laptops to look up information about our texts and related countries. The Sakai chat room provided students with a place to test out ideas for their class projects and paper topics-the most creative and innovative project idea resulted in collaboration between two students to build a new Wikipedia page on author Liao Yiwu. Once the classroom model of student leadership was established, students were able to maintain extended conversations and explorations without faculty input-and when I did join in, it was as part of the group. The direction of research and exploration was almost entirely student-driven, emerging out of the class texts and their own reactions to what they were reading. (See the attached file "class discussion transcript").
All goals and expectations of the course are included on the course syllabi, which was also posted on the course Sakai site. The class held an extensive discussion about the purpose of the course and the course outcomes to which the students wanted to commit themselves. Students were introduced to the course Sakai site, with links that they could use for research and other resources. All students had already used to, in previous courses, although not all had used it extensively. Before starting research papers for the class, students were introduced to the TC Online Writing Handbook (another Sakai site linked to the course site). In regards to their reading assignments, students were introduced to expectations for note taking and research, and these expectations were reinforced to classroom activities such as sharing and analyzing quotations relevant to discussion topics. Resources available from our library -- particularly online -- were demonstrated with the students. In the lab we practiced the use of Netlibrary, an e-book resource, for research. Students were trained, as well, in methods of writing discussion questions for use in their class leadership day. Finally, students were introduced to the Face Book group and given daily, verbal feedback on their contributions. All assignments were provided to students with rubrics, given to them in class, and posted on Sakai. Learning materials were delivered to students with an emphasis on multiple learning styles. For example, for oral learners, we had class discussions and entertained two visitors (one from India and one who married into an Iranian family). For visual learners, our class made extensive use of online materials and videos. For kinesthetic learners, students produced group notes on the classroom whiteboards, and they participated in a field trip to Atlanta. Of course, the course included traditional components in the form of our course books, daily reading tests, and a research paper. In an evaluative comment during the first week of class, one student wrote that "I felt that the class experience was beneficial for gaining knowledge and developing our communication skills. I felt the environment was open for learning and the diversity of the class will provide a good experience. Discussing the readings and articles around the world will help to keep us informed on other cultures! I think the set-up of the class [is] different from other classes because it forces students to participate which is a good thing." For more comments, see the attached file "Student Course Evaluation."
The syllabus objectives for the senior seminar come from the Commons program (each course in the program addresses some of the program outcomes). The seminar addresses critical thinking and information literacy; the syllabus includes the grading criteria for these outcomes. The critical thinking rubric was applied to all assignments, with instruction on thinking skills when needed. For instance, I used a Sakai announcement to describe how to capture different cognitive levels through questions. In this seminar, students took the outcome "students will understand world issues through multiple global perspectives" and composed more descriptive outcomes:
- Our class will comprehend and analyze global societies, their cultural and political structures.
- Our class will increase our knowledge of global cultures and evaluate the differences of world cultures and traditions.
- Our class will synthesize ways in which people in global societies structure their lives.
Because they created their own outcomes and were responsible for daily discussion and a day of class leadership, students understood the high expectations.
Assessment instruments-utilizing primary trait analysis--helped students understand expectations. Rubrics for class participation and research emphasized critical thinking and information literacy on the feedback sheet. Each student received written feedback weekly (as well as verbal feedback daily). The class leadership assignment instructed students on the research and critical thinking components of the presentation, and a rubric which also gave students clear categories of achievement. Through the instruments and use of the Sakai grade book, students had prompt feedback-an essential component of our block class.
Self-analysis occurred through peer-to peer and faculty-student verbal feedback. Additionally, one self-assessment survey proved interesting in that students were asked to assess their level of reflective judgment (a seven-level scale developed by Kitchener and King. See http://dhc.ucdavis.edu/fh/aa/king.html). Furthermore, in the third week of class, students were asked to assess their level of civility. I asked them to describe how they were handling discussions given their different viewpoints (Appalachian, out-of-state, foreign (one student was from the Gambia), and military (one student was a veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq). Students explained how they engaged in complex discussion while remaining respectful of others. Both assessments-in civility and in reflective judgment-connect to the college's mission of teaching the civic arts. The civic arts (building citizenship) are incorporated into the Commons through three "virtue" outcomes: Self-knowledge, Civility, and Ethics of Responsibility. (The Commons Handbook lists all core outcomes: http://www.tusculum.edu/academics/civicarts/commons.html.)
The course content was almost entirely student-created. Using literature as a starting point, students answered their own questions. I provided a few formal lectures on concepts of globalism and citizenship (theses files were posted on Sakai for student reference). Leadership presentations were posted on Sakai as well. Students did "group work" to explore texts and chose news reports to read. They were instructed only to focus on news from a foreign newspaper-there was a Sakai link to the ILP, Internet Public Library, listing foreign papers in English. Students posted comments on Facebook and brought news to class daily.
The course Sakai site uses the Tusculum College graphics and uses a course graphic on the home page. Links on the sidebar in Sakai are ordered for best student use, and announcements are presented in full text for better readability.
Resources for student success (such as tutoring and learning disability support) are included on the syllabus. Students were directed to the IT help desk for help with technology that we could not solve ourselves in class. Students were given training in class by me on how to use applications such as Sakai and Facebook. We devoted some class time to training on using library resources, and I delivered instructions several times on how to evaluate web sites-including showing students how to explore the Wikipedia discussion tab for information relevant to the reliability of the article they were reading. The Tusculum College Online Writing Handbook was added to our Sakai site. It is a separate Sakai site recently created by the English department and being piloted for student use in writing papers. When I discovered that students were underprepared to write a ten page research paper, we spent class time exploring the links on the writing handbook site and discussing how to organize the paper and how to cite information. Our "chat" on Sakai, on a snow day, was mostly devoted to issues of using and citing research in a paper. Because we are on a block schedule, I interacted with students not only during the three hours of class but also in the evenings and mornings through Facebook, Sakai, and email.
The Seminar in Literaure and Society Sakai site provided a base for communication, exploration in technology, and distribution of information and ideas. Each individual piece added to a class experience in which communication was enhanced during and after class, iand n which our course site was integrated with the Facebook application, allowing us to distinguish the class group versus the larger group of contributors. Our Sakai site was a repository for student work and a place of exchange for papers in progress and for discussion of project ideas. Because of the fast pace of our "block" class, Sakai provided us with a quick way to communicate during the evening and day through the constant use of the grade book, chat function, announcements and message board. Tusculum is one of the heaviest users of Sakai in the ACA, whose LAMP project supporting Sakai use is stellar. The use of Sakai and related technologies comes about through much faculty training from ACA and Tusculum staff and from ongoing practice with Sakai and relevant teaching pedagogies. Each student found some component of the active learning activities to match their needs for learning. Students felt deeply engaged, having adopted new ways of looking at the world and feeling gratified by our immersion in world issues.
|Class discussion transcript.doc||28 KB|
|Student course evaluation.doc||27 KB|