New Student Activism: Stops on the Road to New Solidarities

Steve Volk, April 24, 2017

protest-silsIt has been an unsettled period at the Claremont colleges in California. On April 6, about 250 protesters at Claremont McKenna College blocked the entrance to the building where Heather MacDonald was scheduled to speak. MacDonald, a critic of the #Black Lives Matter movement, authored The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe. She ultimately gave her talk for live streaming before a largely empty hall.

Students at Harvey Mudd staged an 8- hour sit-in demanding greater support for mental health issues on campus following the placement of an associate dean for Mental Health and Wellness on administrative leave. The president then closed the college for two days of campus-wide conversations on April 17-18 to discuss those protests and a series of other issues, including the leaking of what some characterized as “stinging remarks from professors” about students.

Following the death of a student at Scripps on April 6, the Residential Advisors at that college announced that they would go on strike on April 20 unless their demands, including the resignation of that college’s Dean of Students, were met.

Students at Pomona also responded negatively to a campus-wide letter sent by Pomona College president, David Oxtoby voicing his opposition to students who blocked MacDonald’s talk.

By coincidence, or perhaps less-than-divine intervention, I had been invited many months ago to speak at the colleges on April 18 as the 2017 Claremont Colleges Center for Teaching and Learning Distinguished Lecturer. My announced topic: “New Student Activism: Challenges and Possibilities.” This week’s “Article of the Week,” is the talk that I gave, with some edits, additions, and links to sources. Your comments, as always, are quite welcome.

Oberlin students march in favor of the rights of undocumented students. November 16, 2016. Photo Steve Manheim, Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria)

Oberlin students march in favor of the rights of undocumented students. November 16, 2016. Photo Steve Manheim, Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria)

What can we say about the moment we’re living in terms of student activism on campuses since the inauguration of Mr. Trump? On the one hand, students from Oregon State to San Diego State and from Auburn to Wichita State have staged powerful actions in support of undocumented students, DACA registrants, immigrants and refugees from around the world. On the other, events at Middlebury, Claremont McKenna, Canada’s McMaster University and elsewhere have attracted the media’s attention when students either shouted down speakers or refused to allow audiences access to hear them. Concerns over the erosion of civil rights under Attorney General Sessions have competed for airtime with protests over the cultural appropriation of hoop earrings (Pitzer College) or hair braiding (Hampshire College). That there are about 6,400 institutions of higher education in the United States and yet the actions of students at a handful of selective liberal arts colleges seems to set the tone for what the public thinks about this generation of students, activist or not, is probably par for the course. It nods to both the influence that a certain tier of private colleges and flagship universities has always exercised, and the (wearisome) pleasure that many in the media take in ridiculing students who protest at very expensive, elite colleges and who, in their opinion, should be thanking their lucky stars (or their wealthy parents) for being where they are rather than carrying on. Continue reading

Group Projects: It’s Better Together – But Only if You Plan

Steve Volk, April 10, 2017

Gold and Silver Fish of China, 1800-1899, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Art & Architecture Collection, New York Public Library, Public Domain

Gold and Silver Fish of China, Chinese painting, c.1800-1899, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Art & Architecture Collection, New York Public Library, Public Domain

Assigning group projects is a fairly common practice across the disciplines. You can read Penny J. Gilmer’s book on Transforming University Teaching Using Collaborative Learning (Springer 2010), view the collaborative project between Denison University and the American University of Bulgaria described here last week, or explore these software engineering group projects from the Australian National University. And much more in between.

Quite often faculty will wait until the end of the semester before designing a collaborative project as a final assignment. What could go wrong? Um, a lot? And while there’s no single way to fashion group projects that are guaranteed to succeed, the surest way to nudge it off the rails is to assign a group project as a time saver for you: Let’s see. I’ve got 50 students in the class. If I put them in groups of 5, I’ll only have 10 projects to read at the end of the year. Yay! (And I speak from – sad – experience on this score.)

But there are also steps to take to help group projects succeed. Here are a few elements to consider as you plan for collaborative work in your classes. Since the central point is to make sure that group work aligns well with the overall learning goals in your course, it is likely already too late in the semester to integrate it in a meaningful way. But it’s never too soon to start planning for next semester. So, here are five areas to think about: Continue reading

Global Connections 2.0 (or are we up to 3.0?)

Steve Volk, April 3, 2017

"Sam_6010," photo by Johanna L., Flickr - Creative Commons

“Sam_6010,” photo by Johanna L., Flickr – Creative Commons

The higher ed press has run a number of articles recently on the ways that institutional collaborations can save money by multiplying scarce resources while providing opportunities for students and faculty not normally available on any single campus.  Susan Palmer, the executive director of the Five Colleges of Ohio (Denison, Kenyon, Ohio Wesleyan, Oberlin, and Wooster), for example, wrote about a number of our collaborations including projects on digital scholarship, faculty planning, curricular coherence,  integrated learning, language enrichment, and others.

Individual faculty have been collaborating with colleagues at other institutions for years, often using readily available and free software (usually Skype) to “bring in” the author of a book the students are currently reading, listening to “on the scene” observations from colleagues living in areas of the world where important events are occurring, or connecting language learners with peers in target language countries.

Palestinian, Israeli and U.S. student at Keep Co-op, Oberlin College, 2010 (Photo Amanda Nagy)

Palestinian, Israeli and U.S. student at Keep Co-op, Oberlin College, 2010 (Photo Amanda Nagy)

Beyond this, some faculty have put the time and effort (and often blood, sweat and tears) into developing more intensive collaborations across institutions and national borders because the results, in terms of student learning and personal impact as well as the faculty members’ own professional development, can be so significant. At Oberlin, the “American Democracy” project run by emeriti history professors Carol Lasser and Gary Kornblith, comes to mind.  Beginning in 2010. The project consisted of two parallel partnerships, one between Al Quds University (Palestine) and Oberlin College, and the other between Tel Aviv University (Israel) and Oberlin College. Using a common sourcebook of readings, courses on the American democratic experience were taught in tandem at the three institutions. Besides posting reflections on a joint course management site, students from all three institutions “met” via video conferencing and, for a number of summers, in person in Oberlin. Continue reading