Summary of 3/18/05 Discussion:
What do we want to change about Bryn Mawr as a teaching and learning
We began with introductions, and with the suggestion that the
serious problems of the world might well be addressed via education
at Bryn Mawr. Reference was made to a recent
Peer Mentoring Workshop. Discussion opened with two questions
It was suggested that "lecture environments were not ideal," that
there is a "lot of one-way teaching," that many faculty "do not know
how to facilitate discussions effectively." Contrai-wise, it was suggested
that lectures can provide rich resources for learning, and that classes
which are not guided by a professor's agenda end up relying "too much"
on student discussion. This happens more in the humanities than in
the sciences. There was considerable discussion of science education
in particular; there seemed an assumption, among humanists, that science
could only be taught a certain way, to certain sorts of learners,
and that many students "resort to other areas" because they "can't
deal with traditional science teaching strategies." Science majors
do need to master certain skill sets, but there are many ways to learn
them. There must be a balance between depth and breath--or might we
focus instead on "uncovering" a field's way of thinking, its analytic
skills and ways of learning, without attempting to cover all the content?
- whether students prefer to be active (rather than passive)
- whether Bryn Mawr supports such learning.
It was agreed that "active learning" was less a description of
particular pedagogical techniques than an "attitude" that says,
"I am invested in learning. It's about me generating output, getting
involved in experiential learning." An active learner takes ownership
of her own decisions, and chooses to do extra work because she's
interested in it. But many students don't know why they are at Bryn
Mawr; they are "getting grades and missing the education." The recent
proposal at plenary to devote Martin Luther King Day to service,
rather than to the first day of classes, was met with the response
that we are "students first, activists second." But internships
and praxis placements, which involve "going outside to bring more
learning in," are themselves acts of learning.
Professors "want teaching to be transformational; do students
want learning to be the same?" There was discussion about our "receptiveness
to change," and about the significance of content and assessment
(does a neglect of either end up compromising the kinds and amount
of information that need to be transferred?). How much are we willing
to consider different perspectives? It was claimed that, "to want
transformation," we need to "rely on places we haven't been," and
be "willing to go to places culturally different from our own."
What about the need for education "related to one's own life"? Can
"experience be a conversation stopper," a way of marking those places
one is not willing to go exploring?
There was also much discussion about our obligations to others
in the classroom: are you just here for yourself, or to contribute
to a community of learners? (How "selfish" is it to be silent?)
How responsible are we to one another, how much should we shoulder
the burden of participation for the whole? How can we negotiate
an education that gives us a freedom to reference what interests
us, without giving up our responsibility to others? Doesn't this
happen de facto, as a common courtesy, at least in major classes,
if not in required ones?
Why force people to do what they don't want to do (that is, to
take courses they don't want to take)? Because "going for interest
is an issue"; doing so can limit the extent of a student's education.
How can students be encouraged to enter other perspectives, those
which counter their own "axes of identity"? There was lively discussion
about the possibility of a multicultural requirement: Many courses
deal with matters of diversity, but identifying some of them as
"multicultural" will ensure that those topics are addressed. Might
this be a way of institutionalizing, in the curriculum, the good
work done in the Winter Tri-Co Institute? Might it draw on the long
experience at the Graduate School of Social Work in the required
course on cultural diversity? How might faculty be helped to take
an institutional responsibility for such courses?
Why is there such an emphasis on departmental requirements, at
a liberal arts college like this one? Might students be helped to
take classes outside their major, and guided to relate them to their
major work? How can we spark relations between departments? How
much are current courses "imposing on the learning," how suffocating
are they? How might syllabi be designed as "miraculous agendas"
in which students can both draw on their own experience and be "taken
beyond where they have been?" An exploratory syllabus needs "lots
of open space." A "syllabus is one thing; how it is taught is another"--and
that varies widely among the faculty.
Emergent pedagogy was recommended: the process of redesigning
courses based on feedback from the students. A course should not
be constrained by the syllabus, but responsive to students' needs
We agreed to meet again, 3:30-5 p.m. on Friday, April 15, in the
Multicultural Center, to discuss further how we can increase multicultural
education at Bryn Mawr--and to what ends? Conversation is encouraged
to continue, in the interim, in the on-line
Return to Bryn
Mawr as a Learning/Teaching Environment: A Conversation.