Tag Archives: Pedagogy

Anthropology in the classroom.

Beyond the College Essay

UPDATE: Rebecca Schuman has come under fierce attack for her article, including calls that she be fired. Please see this letter of support.

Rebecca Schuman has a piece in Slate which is getting a lot of attention. Titled “The End of the College Essay: An essay” she complains that “It wastes 15 hours of my time to mark up my students’ flaccid theses and non sequitur textual ‘evidence’” especially when plagiarism is so rampant and the students who actually read comments are the ones who need them the least, etc. She is quick to add that “Of course it would be better for humanity if college in the United States actually required a semblance of adult writing competency.” But insists that she has tried everything, all to no avail. In the end, she offers up some alternatives to writing papers, such as written and oral exams. It is an intentionally provocative piece, and I’d like to make use of this provocation by making a few points drawn from my personal experience as well as some more general observations based on things I’ve read.

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Finding Time for Professionalization, or, Grading Less Isn’t Caring Less

One of the things that jumps out from our two surveys on the life of adjuncts and life after adjuncting is that most respondents who currently serve as adjuncts only spend 1-5 hours each week on their own professionalization (which we define like this: ‘publications, conference papers, etc.; i.e. things that ostensibly count towards tenure’ outside of teaching). This is surprising because the majority of respondents also claim to only be teaching two courses per term and spending 40 or fewer hours in all teaching-related activities (with most people responding in the 30-40 range, and some reporting as high as 60 hours each week). Which leads me to this question: What are people doing with their time?

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The first MOOC was a book

There is some interesting discussion happening right now about Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. I think a lot of it conflates education with universities as an institution of learning. To better untangle some of this it is helpful to think about earlier changes in communications technology and how they changed learning. To that end, I’d like to discuss an article by my thesis advisor, F. Niyi Akinnaso (1992): “Schooling, Language, and Knowledge in Literate and Nonliterate Societies.”

Akinannso’s article questions the casual equation of formal learning with literacy. He shows how Yoruba traditions in Nigeria associated with Ifá divination have many of the same features we associate with formal learning, even though it is an entirely oral tradition. There are schools, exams, and, importantly for the present discussion, a process of socialization into the use of texts (whether those texts be written down or memorized). He compares the training of diviners to Peter Burke’s description of the training of Catholic priests in early modern Italy:

During the course of their training, these professionals develop special exegetical abilities and become speakers of the appropriate language of authority.These attributes and the specialized knowledge they have acquired become the chief source of their power in society.

The point being that these functions of the university (or seminary) as an institution can be fulfilled separately from the technology of literacy.

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Amis Hebrew School (Learning an Endangered Language Part 8)

[This is the 6th 8th1 installment in an ongoing series.]

I'm officially a student again.

Above is a picture of my student ID from the “Hualien Tribal College.” Actually the official English name on their web page is “Hualien Indigenous Community College” which sounds better to my anthropological ears. Indigenous Community Colleges in Taiwan are not degree granting institutions. Courses tend to be short-term classes focused on indigenous culture, although they offer subjects like documentary filmmaking to help students learn to document their own culture. I’ve enrolled in an eight week course in the Amis language. (At the same time I’m continuing to audit indigenous language classes at my own university.)

While these classes have been great for my research, I still don’t feel I’ve made much progress with my language skills. Unlike DJ, who recently spent half a year living in a village with a large number of old people who still are able to speak Amis, I spend most of my time with young students who have very little competence. But more than that, I’ve come to realize that my research focus on official language revitalization efforts is actually something of a handicap when it comes to language learning. This is what I wanted to write about today.

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What The Best College Students Do

A couple of years back Ken Bain wrote What The Best College Teachers Do, a book which was widely read, even by people who don’t normally read books on how to teach. One person who didn’t read it was me. So when Bain’s follow-up What The Best College Students Do came out, I decided to take a look and see what the fuss was all about. I agree strongly with Bain’s argument — I do think college students who follow his advice will be successful — but the book was hardly a home run for me. If you are a college student, then you might care for it more than I did.

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Teaching anthropology in the coming years

Are we preparing the next crop of anthropology PhDs who enter American academe to deal with the great shift in educational culture? With some states trying to pass laws that will enable students to excuse themselves from learning scientific concepts, what sort of undergraduates will populate US universities in the future? How is this going to impact the teaching of anthropology?  I wonder how new professors will be able to teach basic anthropological ideas about evolution, marriage, sex and gender in the coming years.  And then there’s the additional issue of classroom audiotaping. Do you allow students to record your lectures? What if you get a job teaching in a state where conservative activists, often not even students, infiltrate the classrooms of liberal professors with the intent to tape and misrepresent them on the internet?

Switching textbooks for an established class: Bad idea or worst idea?

I’ve been using the same textbook for my Intro to Anthropology course since 2008 and now I’ve got that itch to go upsetting everything by choosing a new book. Originally, I didn’t put much thought into choosing this book either. I just copied whatever textbook the more senior professor was using. Hey! I was a grad student and writing my diss, okay?

The textbook is just fine. My class is good. I’ve got good lectures, assignments, and examples. But I just can’t leave well enough alone. I want a new book.

As an adjunct instructor I have little say in what I teach — whatever the chair wants the chair gets. So I’m saddled with teaching Introduction to Anthropology now and into the foreseeable future. I do have the power the determine my students’ assignments and I’ve created a real nice set up balancing a good physical anthropology textbook with short cultural anthropology articles. In the past I’ve allowed for a ‘recommended’ text to supplement this, but now I’m seriously thinking about switching things up big time.

Am I being foolish?

I’ll give a counter example. Once upon a time (at a different job) I was given Food and Culture to teach, something outside my area of expertise. The first semester, honestly, it wasn’t that great. So the following semester I completely retooled it. That was a smart move and it improved the class.

This is different. This is my Intro class which I’ve taught a bazillion times and now I’m bored with it. I want to do something new, but I can’t. But maybe I could get the same thrill from starting over from scratch?

Of course there’s room for improvement without touching the book. Like any competent professor I continue to tweak my established courses, keeping the things that work and altering or eliminating the things that fall flat. I could do more of that. Or I could do something even more radical like introduce a new topic and drop another.

But the class is fine. This is stupid. Why am I screwing everything up when it already works? The one great perq of my job is that it is easy and switching books will only make me work more.

I want a new book!

Making Do

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Nathan Fisk, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here. Read Nathan’s prior posts: post 1 — post 2 — post3]

I believe I mentioned in my first post the ways in which I’ve engaged with ethnographic practice in my particular position of precarity, something which I’ve largely avoided talking much about so far. As should be clear for those who have read my earlier posts, I’m not really doing much by way of ethnographic work in my current state of job application scramble/burnout. Although, I suppose I have done a significant amount of participant observation with the feline subjects that share my home, but outside of Facebook I rarely write up my findings. That said, I have had some interesting experiences with ethnographic work during my time as an adjunct – and I think the discussion thus far is pointing towards some interesting implications for ethnographic work in the non-academic world. So, in this post, I want to get at my research experiences as a sometimes ethnographer, adjunct and potential escapee from the academic career track.

As I mentioned previously, I was lucky enough this past spring semester to have the opportunity to develop and teach a course based on my own dissertation work – Youth and Teens Online. I saw it as an opportunity to broaden out my work, moving away from the emphasis on risk and safety, and towards a broader picture of youth life online. The syllabus was filled with central readings that I wanted to return to, and selections from the vast constellation of literature that never quite made it into the frame as I wrote my dissertation. Given that I had to develop a discussion guide for every class session, I read and reread every one with a new post-dissertation perspective – and I had time to do it in a careful, deliberate manner. Better yet, I had to do the reading, and had to think of things to say before each class without fail, regardless of my feelings of post-dissertation fatigue. Continue reading

Workplace Ethnography 101—Interrogating the Unpaid Internship

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Laurel George, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here. Read Laurel’s prior posts: post 1 — post 2 — post3]

One paradox of practicing ethnography at the academic sidelines is that often the further one gets from the institutional “center” of the field, the more clarity is needed about the fundamentals of ethnographic method and analysis.  This need to get “back to basics” played out in my market research work in which my colleagues and I often needed to prove what ethnography could offer that consumer-data-gathering methods could not.  Here I offer another example of this paradox as I describe the adjunct teaching I currently engage in outside of an anthropology department.  The course I teach is a non-departmental seminar required of arts and sciences undergraduates who wish to receive academic credit in conjunction with unpaid internships not related to their majors.  For example, if a biology major wants to get credit for interning in the editorial department of a fashion magazine or an English major wants to work at an education non-profit that provides afterschool mentoring to kids, they would enroll in my 2-credit internship seminar and 2-credit fieldwork course.  The vast majority of my students are not anthropology majors and for most of them, my course is their first exposure to ethnographic theories and methods.  Those of us working on the margins of our field often have to take on a ambassadorial role vis a vis the discipline, explaining in clear and basic terms not just what ethnography is but also what ethnography can do.  In what follows, I describe what I hope ethnography can do for my non-major students engaged in unpaid internships.  Along the way, I also briefly interrogate the role of unpaid internships in undergraduate study in the U.S., arguing that they are an increasingly significant piece of the kind of workplace precarity we’ve been discussing throughout this series.

Unpaid internships have been much in the news lately—the intern suing Harper’s Bazaar magazine, unpaid interns toiling behind the scenes of the movie Black Swan, and even unpaid interns (over)working at liberal icon Charlie Rose’s show.  More about unpaid internships per se in a moment, but what, you may be wondering, has this to do with ethnography? A few years ago, I had feelers out for teaching work and started talking to someone who knew of my work with non-profit arts organizations and needed someone to teach an internship seminar in order to meet increased student demand for such a course.  The social sciences have long acknowledged the value of experiential learning, and student placements with non-profit, social service, or public policy organizations have been common.  With this in mind, I happily accepted the offer to teach an undergraduate internship seminar, with most involved (especially me) thinking that I would shepherd students through fieldwork in a range of non-profit and/or public-sector organizations.  What none of us really foresaw was how high the student demand would be for a course that could grant credit in conjunction with internships in for-profit workplaces. Over the several semesters I’ve taught the internship class, about three-quarters of my students’ unpaid internships have been in for-profit settings, most notably entertainment, magazine publishing, fashion, public relations, and banking.  Clearly, neither I nor any other faculty member could claim expertise in all of these industries, so my aim has become to equip students with a way of making sense of their internships beyond their sometimes-fuzzy goals of “networking” and “resume-building.’ Continue reading

Open access introductory anthro courses?

One of my colleagues from the U of Kentucky just posted a request on our grad student listserv asking for advice about which texts people are using for intro courses.  I replied with the book that I used during the two intro to anthropology classes I taught while at UK, but then added that the book was lamentably expensive at around 100 bucks.  And that got me thinking.

I wonder if at some point there will be such a thing as an open access intro to anthropology course, where all of the texts and articles are not only current, but readily available.  Just an idea.  The cost of textbooks was one of the big frustrations for me when I was teaching–but I went along with things anyway because there were few alternatives.  And then there was the issue with articles: some are a lot easier to find and access than others.  Some articles are just plain not available.  Not to mention the fact that there are all sorts of restrictions about how articles can and cannot be shared with students.

I know that textbook publishers aren’t exactly going to be thrilled with this conversation, but what would an open access course look like?  I know that these kinds of things don’t happen for free, of course, so I am wondering how such a thing could be created, funded, and implemented.  Has anyone else out there been looking something along these lines?  I’d love to hear about it.  Or, if you think this is an insane idea that would never work in the real world, I’d like to hear what you think just as much.  Right now I am imagining a larger project along the lines of Wikipedia where different scholars write and publish open access articles specifically for introductory courses.  That of course could be combined with material that’s already open (like articles from AA that are more than 35 years old).  Hmmm.  Thoughts?


PS: Ya, when I start thinking about OA I get on a roll.  What can I say?  I have my streaks.

Fluidity, Multiplicity, Contingency: The Shifting Sands of Knowledge Work

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Laurel George, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here.]

In this discussion by and about anthropologists working at the boundaries of academia, a reasonable place to start is with a statement of academic situatedness.  But in academia today—and especially on its sidelines—talking about situatedness can be tricky business.  In the traditional U.S. academic trajectory with a tenured academic position as the ultimate goal, a simple name, rank, and affiliation answer was sufficient and expected. Moreover, that small piece of information could offer a good amount of information about one’s intellectual pedigree and leanings, relative degree of success, and likely fields of expertise. For so many today, though,  both within academia in contingent positions and those working outside of academia, describing one’s institutional situadedness requires qualifiying language of  temporality, multiplicity, and fluidity. These qualifications we make, offered apologetically or not, stem, I believe, from the gap between the reality of academic careers in the U.S. today and the ideal(ized) traditional tenure-track career trajectory, which we still hold as the norm.  This despite the fact that those with tenure and on the tenure-track comprise a distinct minority of faculty in U.S. colleges and universities. Recent statistics and studies indicate that somewhere between 65% and 75% of all faculty in U.S. colleges and universities are in part-time or adjunct positions while only 25%-30% are tenured or on the tenure track. And these numbers do not account for those who went into academe aspring to careers that looked like those of their own professors and mentors, but who now work fully or partly outside of academia. The next few weeks will take up these issues as they pertain to the field of anthropology and the practice of ethnography, and in doing so will offer ideas about centers and margins, success and failure, and tradition and innovation.

First, though, a quick look to my academic and professional trajectory, offered as a kind of case study.  After getting an undergraduate degree in anthropology (with a big dose of dance thrown in), I decided to work for a year or two before going for my doctorate in anthropology.  At the encouragement of an esteemed professor, I applied to work in the Dance Program at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), attracted by the possibility of immersion in a completely different world. Months went by with no word from the NEA. I took that as a sign that I’d better get on with the grad school plan without the detours,  so I applied to doctoral programs in anthropology.  Mere days before replies were to go out from graduate programs and almost a year after applying to the NEA, I was called down to Washington, D.C. for a job interview.  I was offered and accepted the job, deferred my acceptance into Rice University’s Cultural Anthropology Ph.D. program, and stayed at the NEA for a year and a half. It was the right move—not only did I learn about arts funding, concert dance in the U.S., and how to work outside of an academic environment, I also gathered information for my eventual doctoral disseration, a multi-site ethnography on contemporary dance in the U.S. which included the NEA as one of the field sites.  (The other field sites were dance organizations and communities of dancers in New York City, where I moved to do fieldwork  in 1997 and have never left.)

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False Egalitarianism and Illusions of Inherent Good

Before jumping into some cautions about mentoring as part of critical pedagogy and anthropological practice, I want to point out that I updated my last post to reflect two specific references:

  1. John McCreery’s discussion of teaching/learning as “fellow travellers on a great plain” comes from Stanley Cavell’s book Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome: The Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism.
  2. I also added a link and reference to the Willen, Mulligan and Casteneda’s article (see full reference at the end of the post).

Although this will be my last post as a guest blogger on Savage Minds, I’m planning to continue writing and thinking about this idea of mentoring. I hope to start a bibliography and maybe continue to write here if anyone is interested for future reference – maybe someone out there will want to do anthropological research on mentoring that captures some of the multiple ways such relationships might develop and play out as John McCreery suggested in comments on my previous post. If you do, I’d love to hear about it.

While there are numerous ideas, critiques, and issues that commenters brought up in the last couple of posts, I want to focus here very briefly on what those interested in mentoring and/or teaching and learning as critical praxis might want to be careful about in engaging this kind of practice. Continue reading

Mentoring in Anthropology: Thoughts on Praxis, Anthropology, and the Teaching/Learning Process

My last post considered some questions about mentoring in anthropology and whether we as anthropologists have anything specific, particular, or unique to add to a discussion that is happening in many places, including the scholarship of teaching and learning, undergraduate and graduate research, schools of education, and specifically in anthropology. The comments on the post provoked a lot more thinking about mentoring on my part, so here I want to pull out some of the comments and questions to elaborate further. I’ll post on one or two questions at a time this week.

Mentoring and Anthropological Praxis:

In my last post, I suggested that mentoring might be something to consider as part of anthropological praxis, which led to questions about what exactly I envision to be anthropological praxis as well as how mentoring might or might not fit in. I’ll elaborate on mentoring more below, but first just a kind of simple explanation of praxis and how we might think about a specific anthropological praxis: Continue reading

Paolo Freire, Critical Knowledge, and Anthropological Mentoring

I’ve gone around and around about how to write this post because I have too many ideas running around in my head. Rather than prolong the agony for myself I decided on the brain dump approach, which makes for a long post. So here’s the brief outline of each segment: a response to a couple of comments on my last post about anthropology and exploitation/power, a discussion of Freire’s critical knowledge grounded in my own youth participatory action research experience, then some musings on and questions about mentoring as part of anthropological praxis.

A response
Before I jump into the next discussion of my current thinking about anthropological praxis, I want to generally address a couple of comments and critiques that folks brought to the table concerning my last post to clarify a little bit what I was trying to lay out and to maybe connect a little more clearly to where I’m going next.

I do not think that most anthropologists necessarily experience fieldwork in the same way that I did in my first fieldwork experience or in the way that Behar’s quote from my last post suggests. In fact, I’ve had two very different experiences of fieldwork that, in their contradiction, really support the idea that anthropology doesn’t have to be this exploitative relationship between researcher and research participant (see discussion of Speaking Out project below). However, as Rex pointed out in his comment, thinking through unequal relationships of power in whatever research context seems to me to be central for many anthropologists…and not just thinking through unequal relationships of power, but also thinking about relationships (between teachers and students, mentors and mentees, researchers and research participants, etc) as potentially humanizing rather than dehumanizing – in other words, a more positive reflection that focuses on capacities. Continue reading

Some Foundations for Anthropological Praxis

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Mary Alice Scott

In attempting to find inspiration for my summer writing projects, I recently picked up The Vulnerable Observer, a collection of essays by Ruth Behar. Another of Behar’s books, Translated Woman, was the first ethnography I ever read, and I was feeling like going back to the roots of my anthropological journey.

Her first essay, aptly titled “The Vulnerable Observer,” begins with Isabel Allende’s telling of the story of Omaira Sánchez, a thirteen-year-old girl who became trapped in the mud during an avalanche in Colombia in 1985. Although photographers and journalists could do nothing to save her, they did not hesitate to watch her and document the tragedy in front of them. Is this witnessing or exploitation? And do we as anthropologists do anything different? Behar (and many others) argues that too often, we do not.

Lay down in the mud in Colombia. Put your arms around Omaira Sánchez. But when the grant money runs out, or the summer vacation is over, please stand up, dust yourself off, go to your desk, and write down what you saw or heard. Relate it to something you’ve read by Marx, Weber, Gramsci or Geertz and you’re on your way to doing anthropology (p. 5).

Behar’s division between the “field” – where Omaira Sánchez lies drowning in the mud – and the “academy” – where anthropologists write grants, reports, dissertations, articles and other projects that are largely disconnected from the humanity of the fieldwork moment – is perhaps more stark than many of us understand our own work to be. In my discussions with colleagues, it is clear that we understand the social and political implications of the work that we do and the urgency of making connections outside of academia as well as within it.

But recognizing Behar’s division calls attention to the violence structuring the anthropological dilemma. As I teeter on the edges of witnessing and exploitation, I think I have (at least) two choices. I can more or less resign myself to the inherent contradictions of my work doing my best to mitigate the more extreme moments of violence when they arise, or I can bring more attention to my daily practice of anthropology.

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