It is very fortunate that my good friend Lisa just responded to an old blog post from last semester. It has been a full semester since I last contributed to this blog. Yikes! Coincidentally, as I am working from home this morning, I did have visions of jumping back into my blog to fill in all the gaps from last semester to this semester. Lisa’s comment was just a reminder that I better get writing.

So, where to begin?

ANTH 216: African Diaspora – This was a class where I worked very closely with the new Department Chair in Anthropology. We began our planning toward the end of the summer, examining her previous syllabus and adding mini research assignments and library sessions where appropriate. RM likes to structure her courses with lots of student discussion. A typical assignment is the student-led discussion. Students are arranged in groups at the beginning of the semester and then as the weeks pass, they are responsible on a certain date for creating an interactive conversation with their classmates on a designated topic.

Topics last semester included the comparison/contrast of Mardi Gras to Carnaval; the history of Haiti; problems facing contemporary Haiti; migration and adaptation from the African Diaspora to US and Canadian cities like Miami, NY, Boston, and Montreal; reaction to the film Lumumba; African/Carribean religions as they are practiced in the US; and nationalism promoted in music.

While it was required that every group meet with me a week prior to their student-led discussion, not only for help with research but also in preparation of making the discussion interactive and lively, I didn’t see every group. I had great conversations with many of the students about how to plan the presentation, but in the end, my ideas for interaction may have intimidated them. Time and time again, no matter what we had discussed as a group, the students ended up talking from a powerpoint presentation with a few discussion questions thrown in. The unfortunate part of this is that the technology in the room we were assigned was not very strong or reliable. Students consistently struggled with the seamless flow of ppt to video and sound. Frustrating for everyone involved.

The ONLY group that took me up on my advice was a set of 4 ladies who were assigned a discussion on the film, Lumumba. They had no idea how to design their presentation. I was thinking “critic’s corner” as they came to see me with two variations. 1) half of the class would discuss all the positive attributes of the film while the other half would pan it and 2) the class would be split into 4 groups, each discussing the film from a certain perspective – Patrice Lumumba (the main character/freedom fighter), the film’s director, the Conglese (for whom Lumumba was fighting), and the Belgians (against whom Lumumba was fighting). Each group would have to examine whether or not they thought the film portrayed them satisfactorily. This second option is the one that the group chose. It worked beautifully! The designated date occurred right after Fall Break, so the students had the great idea to first show a video clip that would recapture the essence of the film and reacquaint classmates with what they had seen a week prior. They then divided students into groups, with each of the 4 ladies leading a group. They had definitely done their homework, looking into the background of the film, the history and critiques of the movie. They were able to share this new information with the newly formed “critic” groups. Many times, the added facts and opinions influenced the students’ understanding of the film. The plan was simple, the pressure of “performing” was taken off of the 4 ladies in question, and the class, as a whole, had the most animated conversation that I had been witness to. Further comments on the class’ LMS page proved how effective the strategy and lesson plan was. Everyone remarked on the simplicity of the plan and the overall positive outcome.

YET . . . all groups to follow this presentation reverted back to ppt. *sigh* One group literally questioned my suggestions for incorporating hands-on activities/discussion, claiming that they “weren’t in 3rd grade.” To that, I said that while the method of interaction seemed juvenile, the topic of discussion was not. Unfortunately, that group’s discussion happened the day before Thanksgiving break so I never was able to see what they ended up doing.

Other than the student-led discussion, I involved students in mini-research assignments, mainly to equip everyone for the content of discussion in class throughout the semester. It became obvious to me that to help the leaders of the student discussions/presentations get their classmates talking, everyone in class needed to come prepared with some information on the topic. For instance, one assigned presentation focused on the migration and adaptation of Haitians to US and Canadian cities. The homework that I assigned to students after a brief presentation on researching news stories in LexisNexis, was to find a related article. I divided the students up by US/Canadian city, making sure that there would be a variety of perspectives and experiences represented during the student-led discussion. Students turned their annotated citations into me via LMS (Angel on our campus), with a deadline set just before that student-led discussion took place.

Other research assignments (all in the form of annotated citations) included making comparisons/contrasts between a scholarly and a popular film review; finding a scholarly/educational video or sound clip on African-based religion; finding a CD or a single song that highlighted nationalism; and the study of a particular cultural group through eHRAF.

While the collaboration between RM and myself seemed successful, we have yet to make plans for this semester. It very well could be that we’re both slightly burned out from the fall session or that our preparations this semester will be more impromptu in the coming months. I’m sure that it’s a combination of both. We have discussed putting a limit on the use of powerpoint during student-led discussions (some use is okay but students cannot rely solely on ppt) and brainstorming with the students interactive assignments in which they have been engaged in other classes. Once we come up with a good list of options, students will be able to choose from these in an effort to liven their presentations. But, I’m still waiting to hear from RM . . .

It appears that I had much more to write than I originally thought, so other updates from the Fall semester will have to wait until my next post. Things I will write about include: