The CEMUS Project – Lessons for Oberlin?

Steven Volk, April 26, 2015

A colleague recently introduced me to CEMUS, the Center for Environment and Development Studies at Uppsala University in Sweden. CEMUS is a unique student-initiated and primarily student-run university center with the explicit ambition to contribute to a better world. Since the early 1990’s, it has offered interdisciplinary higher education and been a creative meeting place for students, researchers and teachers from Uppsala University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. The three main principles that define it are Student-Led Education, Collaboration & Partnership and Transdisciplinary Research. Interestingly, at least for us at Oberlin, its founding was at least partially inspired by a lecture given by our own David Orr in Sweden some years earlier in which he set out “six myths about the foundations of modern education, and six new principles to replace them.” Continue reading

Teaching and Supporting Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Steven Volk, April 19, 2015

Our colleagues in the Office of Disability Services recently sponsored a “Light it up Blue” event as part of a worldwide effort to raise awareness of autism. Mudd Library, like the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the Pyramids, and other sites around the world, was bathed in blue on April 2, part of a month long Autism Awareness (also called Autism Acceptance) project.

As our colleagues noted, Oberlin is one of many colleges and universities where the number of students on the autism spectrum has been growing. I’ve attended a number of sessions sponsored by the Office of Disability Services as well as by Elizabeth Hamilton’s Faculty-Staff Learning Community, and they have been remarkably useful in providing attendees with a clear sense of how best to create a classroom in which all our students, including those on the spectrum, can learn. Continue reading

Teaching Students How to Use Images Responsibly

Steven Volk, April 12, 2015


Luis Korda, photographer: “Fidel Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos in Havana,” January 8, 1959.


Like most of us, I use a lot (A LOT) of images in my teaching. Many of the images I show are for what I would call “background purposes.” Nothing like a photo of Fidel Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos riding into Havana on January 8, 1959 to give students a sense of what the Cuban Revolution felt like at its moment of inception. Continue reading

Educating the Whole Student: Personal Dispositions and Student Success

Steven Volk, April 5, 2015

In late January, nearly 90 faculty and staff gathered to begin a discussion about curricular priorities and whether we could be more articulate and intentional in guiding our students toward the learning objectives we feel are essential for their education. In one of the activities of that mid-winter workshop we asked participants to reflect on what things were critical for “success” at Oberlin. We designed the exercise to be an open one, neither defining “success” nor indicating whether the “success” we referenced was theirs (i.e., what did faculty or staff need to do to encourage student success) or their students (what are the factors that determined student success, or, in their absence, prevented it). Participants jotted down their ideas, shared them with others at their tables, and finally transferred them to sticky notes which were placed on large sheets located around the meeting room.


Monica Brown, Pablo Neruda, Poet of the People

We collected them after the meeting and quickly discovered that almost uniformly, participants commented on those factors which they felt defined student success, not their own. So we began to map the comments to common learning outcomes: knowledge and intellectual skills, broad and integrative knowledge, engaging diverse perspectives, creating civic capacity, applied and collaborative engagement, creativity, and personal growth and reflection. Not surprisingly, many participants saw as indicators of success the students’ ability to recognize competing epistemologies, ask really hard questions, revise work, navigate their way through new materials, understand from multiple perspectives, transfer and apply skills, focus on process, make connections and synthesize. Continue reading