Mary NeuburgerSlavic and Eurasian Studies
Our Introduction to Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (REE301) course had calcified into a disjointed “parade of faculty” with a rotating primary instructor. For many years, we have utilized visiting faculty from a variety of departments and a wealth of experience on Russia, Eastern Europe or Eurasia provide “guest lectures.” Unfortunately this old structure perpetuated more traditional modes of teaching (lecture, some discussion, and test) with no active/interactive learning, team work, or use of digital tools for student assignments.
This past fall I dove into my Provost's Teaching Fellows project to re-imagine this course, which serves roughly 70 students, head first. Luckily, I had spent ample time last spring preparing for the plunge. A small team of us spent countless hours pouring over the course syllabus, reframing its structure and outcomes, day-by-day, and week-by-week. We harnessed faculty energies and expertise to create methodological and thematic modules. What emerged was a more interactive and meaningful student and faculty experience.
Our first iteration of the newly designed course was held in the large Learning Lab within the PCL. In-class activities included a series of small team assignments. These teams were also responsible for producing a final short documentary film related to course themes. My co-instructor and I tackled this projects in various stages throughout the semester: a proposal, preliminary script, and a trailer. We hoped this assignment would encourage team-work, independent research, and encourage further engagement with digital sources and delivery. The most rewarding part has been watching new and exciting modes of engagement between faculty and our students.
Most importantly, students are part of exciting discussions and learning processes in a stimulating interdisciplinary environment. One day in class, our students had to dig through (PCL collection) magazines from the Cold War era produced by Eastern Bloc states for Western consumption. They had to choose and analyze images then produce slides with concise captions on everyday life in Eastern Europe. Student teams then presented and explained their choices at the end of class. Dr. Craig Campbell (a visual anthropologist) and myself (a historian of this era) provided differing commentaries on life under communism and capitalism in the 1960s and 1970s. This built upon a presentation at the Harry Ransom Center by Dr. Steve Hoelscher (American Studies), who provided a compelling talk on the Elliot Erwitt collection, with its iconic Cold War images.
One wonderful example of how the re-imagined course maximized the expertise and enthusiasm of our visiting faculty includes the visit of Dr. Petre Petrov. He taught students about Stalinism and socialist realism by having student teams write and deliver formulaic speeches around the topic of “new socialist form of expression” from the 1930s. His infectious sense of fun and excitement around his area of expertise rubbed off on our students while our teaching process provided him with ideas with how he might modify his own course.
In Spring 2017, we will launch a “fusion room.” This dedicated space will provide REE301, plus other departmental courses, with access to digital databases, repositories, tools and artifacts. Student teams will be able to collaborate and contribute to their own ongoing projects. We hope that both this course and fusion room will have a lasting impact on students and the faculty in our wider orbit.