As I drove into work this morning, I listened to an NPR story about the uranium mining that has been happening in the Navajo Nation, and how it has negatively effected the Nation’s people, for years now. What’s funny is that the name of the Chief/President interviewed instantly rang a bell, before I ever discovered that the report was related to the Navajo. The intro to the story was purely about uranium, in general, or perhaps I just wasn’t listening closely enough yet. Why was that name so familiar? Because I have gone through student-chosen website upon website as a regular assignment in Ellen Kintz’ ANTH 229: Film and Ethnography where his name has come up. The course schedule is divided by different cultural groups that students study by way of documentaries. The Navajo, of course, are one of these groups to be explored. It is a fascinating course (not that I have had much, if any, time to sit in on it when I’m not actually teaching in it) and one in which Ellen and I have been very successful at infusing scholarly research skills. Students are introduced to the Navajo during a time where we are simultaneously focusing on scholarly web skills – searching, evaluating, citing, and annotating. On the first or second day of class, I come in to provide a 75-minute session on web skills that move beyond the typical use of simple Google. After lots of hands-on time in class, students are given periodic assignments (as stated in the course syllabus) to produce short annotated bibliographies (3 sources) on the cultural group being studied, in the scholarly research format that we are practicing (in addition to the web, I teach students scholarly skills for finding books, journal articles, and sometimes multimedia platforms). The goal of these assignments is to have students practice and retain these lifelong search skills while learning more about the culture, beyond what can be taught with limited time in the classroom. The formula and balance of content to skills works extremely well! In a sense, students are learning the course content by using advanced research techniques as the vehicle. As I recently titled a faculty workshop at the University of Buffalo, “Broccoli, Headhunting and the Mayan Universe: Is There a Connection?” I make the analogy of sliding scholarly research skills into the course curriculum and learning goals to make “library stuff” seem more palatable much like parents hide broccoli and other greens under gooey, melty cheese or into sweets like brownies so that kids will eat the vegetables that we know are so good for them yet do not have the appeal of . . . let’s say . . . a hot fudge sundae.
Anyway, back to the Navajo stuff . . . In the past, I have compiled students’ web “picks” onto a website, but more recently, Ellen and I have developed a wiki where students can progressively post their chosen research sources and I can go in and make comments and suggestions on their annotated bibliographies (not done so well in Fall 2007 due to complete work overload, but a new wiki will begin when ANTH 229 is offered in Fall 2008). An additional benefit to the students’ wiki work is that they continue to learn, from each other in this case, as they tend to catch glimpses of what their classmates have written, with the annotated bibliographies but more so with the class readings and online discussion.
In brief and returning to the NPR story from this morning (boy, I do like to go on tangents!), I think it is amazing how much of the Anthropology taught by Dr. Ellen Kintz I’ve been able to absorb, merely by working with her and her students. I barely ever attend class sessions if I’m not teaching scholarly skills to the students (no time to do so. I wish there was more time for this.). So, all of my education in Anthropology has been gleaned from what work the students provide to me that I then assess and comment upon. Ellen and I have talked about plans for my graduate work in ANTH. I would LOVE to get a Master’s in Anthropology. It’s so funny how this discipline never came onto my radar screen in my undergraduate days (despite my studies in the French language, culture, linguistics, sociology, and international relations, all of which surround Cultural Anthropology). I do need to get serious about putting in an application for a Master’s program at Empire State College. Must look into this today since I know the most recent deadline is coming up.