Tag Archives: undergraduate teaching

Can There Be a Cheat-Proof Exam?

Cheating is not fun for anyone, except perhaps for the student who does not get caught. At my university I have only one class I teach for non-majors, that is students from around campus who are not majoring in anthropology. It is a class in the anthropology of Tibet, and is a large, lecture class consisting of 150-250 students in any given semester. Each week I lecture twice for fifty minutes, and the students have weekly “recitation” sessions of roughly twenty-five students each where they collectively discuss that week’s readings and lectures with a graduate student Teaching Assistant (TA). This is a classic course model for a large, public university in the USA. It is a course I resisted teaching for years—so many students, I thought. How could I ever teach about Tibet to such a huge audience?—but one I have now taught five times since 2008, and that I have come to love. There is a thrilling combination of reaching an audience for whom this is likely to be the first and only class in anthropology or about Tibet for the great majority of the students. I like to think of the students taking lessons from anthropology back with them to their home majors, whether it is biology or business or neuroscience or journalism. I [optimistically] like to think of them rethinking aspects of their studies, or the world around them, with the introduction to anthropology via Tibet they have received. Of the many things I like about the course, there is one thing I do not: it is the only course in which I catch students cheating.

My initial explanation for this was due to the fact that the course was mostly non-majors. Anthropology students were more committed, less likely to cheat, I thought. Non-majors took the course as a novelty, it seemed, thinking it would be interesting but easy. Some were not amused when they found out it was not easy but actually required attending lecture and recitation, and reading, and thinking. Other students loved the class, and over the years, a number have changed their majors to anthropology after taking this class (and other ones my colleagues teach similar to this—“gateway” classes, we sometimes call them). These students, and the overwhelming majority of the students did not cheat, but instead enjoyed a semester devoted to a topic often radically different than that what they usually studied. For some students it was the only time they had written papers in their college career. Others had no idea how to study for the exam. “Its all stories,” they would say. “And do we need to know the theories?” Exactly, and yes. Welcome to anthropology. Continue reading

Teaching Martin Luther King in Hawai‘i

Every Spring I teach “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in the class immediately following MLK day. Typically I focus on first and second year college students. I do it for several reasons: For many of my students, “I have a dream” is the only text of MLK’s that they know; because it helps explain the reason for the season; and, most of all, because the letter is incredibly teachable.

I originally got the idea from Gerald Graff, who remarked that King was such a clear writer you could almost reconstruct the letter he was responding to just by turning his sentences around. So I said, alright, let’s do it. I’ve done the assignment is several different ways, but basically it goes like this: Students come to class, and we read the letter out loud, each student reading one paragraph at a time. We then begin with the logice of his argument: What are his claims, his reasons, and his examples (this goes pretty quickly in a college setting).

We then move on to rhetoric, asking: How does MLK creates roles for readers and audience in the text? Who does he compare himself to? Who is Paul, what is Tarsus? Many students don’t know this, while others are proud to be able to share their knowledge in an institution which is sometimes not totally welcome to practicing Christians. Some who think they are Christians realize they don’t actually know anything about key texts from their tradition. It’s interesting. But anyway the questions are: Who does he think his audience is? What does he assume that they know?

I then introduce the concept of heteroglossia and ask my student what other voices they can find in the text. How is this single-authored piece shot through with other opinions. Who is King agreeing with or disagreeing with? At the end of class I give students an assignment to write the letter than King was responding to, using only text-internal clues regarding what that letter said. I ask them to reconstruct the argument, as well as to sign it — that is, imagine what kind of people wrote it, even if they don’t know their names.

This process is not too hard on students — you could do it in middle school or high school, in addition to college. You can tweak it, asking them to read MLK’s letter outside of class and then come to class having written the letter to which he’s responding. You can assign some chapters on the book on the Letter from the Birmingham Jail, to provide context, or read other texts by King (I’ve used “Conforming Non-Conformist” in the past).

But really, it’s the ease of analyzing King’s text that makes the exercise so useful. Students feel like they can do it. And you can basically teach ALL intro level college analytic skills just out of this one piece of writing. Once they have that under their belt, you can tell them: “Great. Now on Thursday we’ll be doing this with Foucault. Good luck!”

King’s text is not just easy to analyze, it’s also a model of clarity and persuasive speech. King writes clearly and concisely, but does not write sparely or sparsely. When he needs to let the clauses roll out, they roll out. It’s a valuable corrective to the indigestible academic prose that fills the academy, and which our students unfortunately learn to imitate.

King is exemplary for more than just his prose of course. Undergraduates today — especially those in Hawai‘i — don’t live in King’s world. This is the first experience with Jim Crow that many of my students have had. It’s powerful. And King does more than remind readers of a past that they may not have had access to before. His approach to dialogue is important to. In academy which is used to critique, King tries to convince. In an academy which too often stigmatizes enemy subject positions, King offers readers a chance to be good people — if they get on board his plan. King doesn’t just know what’s wrong. He knows what’s right.

It’s also quite shocking to some students to see that King was in fact a political agitator. We have a vision of him as a great conciliator, someone who found common ground, increased shared understanding, etc. But the King of the Letter actively advocates disruptive, illegal protests. He urges us to heighten tensions, not resolve them. He encourages violation of unjust laws. King was an activist who did the right thing, not the legal thing. I sometimes feel that this is something that people would like us to forget about him.

Finally, reading the Letter makes students ask new questions: What happened after the letter was written? How did we get from there to here. If I fill in some of the context, they start asking: Who was Malcolm X? Martin Buber? If I am teaching a more advanced class, we begin asking “how are we interpellated as a subject? What are the rights and wrongs of such interpellation”?

Your mileage may vary, and it may be too late for you to incorporate some of this material into your own classes later on this week. I’m sure that I’m hardly the only person who finds time in class to teach MLK around MLK day. But if you haven’t yet, why not give this exercise a shot, or adapt it for your own use? Or why not share your own in-class exercises below? Thanks. And happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The Anthro/Zine strikes back!

Anthro/Zine, a venue for undergraduate publication from the team behind Anthropology Now, has entered its second year of publication. The premise behind the project is to provide a space for college students to reflect on how anthropology, in all its myriad forms, has touched their lives. As editor I have been completely blown away by the quality and creativity of our submissions which have included not only essay, but also art, poetry, photography, fiction, and what I call “briefs” — very short pieces. There are now four issues, open access and CC-BY, available at the link above. Check out our latest issue below!

Anthro/Zine publishes April, September, and December coinciding with each new issue of Anthropology Now. If you are a student or recent college graduate and would like to make a submission of some sort that is relevant to anthropology then we would like very much to see what you have to offer. We are most interested in seeing work that is creative, personal, and short. Original research is welcome but we do not publish term papers. Do not submit to us what you have given your professor, your peers are your audience here. Reflect on what you have already accomplished and tell us about your experience of encountering anthropology.

A/Z is not a venue for graduate students, however it is appropriate for grads to submit their work directly to Anthropology Now, please see their guidelines here.

Students or faculty with questions can reach me at mthompson@marinersmuseum.org, if you would like your work considered for the September issue than make your submission by August 1.

Click on the cover or the hyperlink below to download a pdf of our latest issue:

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Anthro/Zine | April 2016Anthro/Zine | April 2016

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Decolonizing Anthropology Textbook Covers

By: Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall and Jennifer Esperanza

As young anthropology students in the 90s we heard Dr. Faye Harrison call: decolonizing anthropology is about “working to free the study of human kind from the prevailing forces of global inequality, and dehumanization…” As professionals, one way that we—anthropologist Dr. Jennifer Esperanza and design anthropologist Dr. Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall—have chosen to decolonize anthropology is to critically (re)examine the North American introductory anthropology textbook.

As Dr. Joyce Hammond and team discussed in their analysis of 47 introductory anthropology textbooks published between 2001 and 2007, the images chosen for the covers are largely comprised of people of color, specifically non-Western and/or Indigenous people. Our examination of textbook covers in subsequent years shows little change, which means that textbook images continue to infer that to study culture is to study a non-“white, middle class, capitalist-based” Other (Figure 1).

Fig 1 anthro_exoticism

Figure 1: Group of covers resulting from Google Search “anthropology textbooks” Continue reading

Visual Turn II: Teaching to Take Stock

Encounters with art and design by an anthropologist and curious non-expert in visual culture.

Earlier this year I was reading the Internet and came across Duke University Press’ list of “Best books of 2014”. Scrolling through, I was held by the title Syllabus: Notes from An Accidental Professor. Cartoonist and author Lynda Barry’s work Syllabus is not easy to pigeonhole into a genre. It is one part how-to manual, two parts graphic novel and a dash of memoir. Its form mimics the inexpensive composition books she asks her students to work in for the semester. Drawn in by her use of images (pardon the pun) I ordered a copy. Continue reading