Teaching Outside the Box

SU faculty members find innovative ways to engage students in their subject matter, both in and out of the classroom

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This is precisely why Mann developed the program. “Learning about people can take place at a distance,” he says, “but understanding others requires us to be present with them.”

A testament to this observation is an experience Frederick Rombouts '08 had at a shelter for street children. Rombouts, who went on the trip as a postgraduate last year and this year, met an 11-year old girl named Rosalea at the shelter during his first trip. After teaching her a few guitar chords to keep her occupied one day, Rombouts says she hugged him and thanked him for being her friend.

She even remembered him from one year to the next. It’s a prime example of how the smallest gesture can have a profound impact on people. “An act of kindness or generosity, which seems small to us, might be the greatest example of friendship they’ve ever seen, especially coming from Americans whom they see as rich and venerable,” Rombouts says.

 

THERE'S NO QUESTION that experiential learning opportunities and cross-cultural experiences qualify as teaching methods that engage students. But sometimes sticking to the book can be just as effective. Just ask Laurence Roth.

One course he teaches, Book Reviewing, is a rigorous workshop introducing students to various forms of book reviewing. In addition to reading book reviews and developing the skills needed to write reviews and critical essays, students produce publishable criticism and post entries to the Department of English and Creative Writing’s new literary criticism blog, Red Inc.

Lindsey Guy '10 took the class because she thought it would be a fresh way of critically approaching books. “As literature majors, we all were used to working with standard literary criticism methods meant to be used in discussions with our peers and professors. But the Book Reviewing course had us consider writing for a different audience and taught us how we could communicate our thoughts about books to people outside academia,” she says.

Another literary topic Roth tackles is an emerging force within academia, and students are learning about it in his survey course, The Comic Book and Graphic Novel. But if anyone signs up for the class thinking it will be a cakewalk, they should think again.

The class constitutes a serious examination of the textual dynamics of comics and their elevation in U.S. literary culture. “It was not an easy A like some students expected,” says Gregory Cwik '12.

“[Roth] had the class do most of the talking and debating so we learned to analyze comics on our own without being spoon-fed.”

Students who take the class are even offered the option of writing their final papers in comic form, allowing them to combine their creativity and critical thinking skills, and to challenge themselves to translate ideas into verbal and visual media.

“The class offers students who love and collect comics the opportunity to discuss them as a serious literary and cultural pursuit,” says Roth, adding that, as consumers, students learn they are a major force in why graphic novels have migrated from the corner bookstore to the university classroom.

Numerous faculty members like Roth weave popular culture into their teaching methodology. For instance, Dave Ramsaran, associate professor of sociology and head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, teaches a Core Perspectives class based on the hit TV drama Lost. The class is designed to introduce first-year students to college life. Another example is an entrepreneurship class taught by Associate Professor of Management Leann Mischel, who runs the course in a way similar to Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice.

But why teach this way? Why go the extra mile to develop all these innovative teaching methods? For Roth, the answer is simple. He defines education as “what occurs in the gap between teaching as an art and teaching as a craft. Weaving popular cultural materials into my courses is a way of translating what inspires me into daily practice, and so I hope my students will see that and imitate it.”

However, a professor’s drive to enrich student learning is hardly a new concept. “What is innovative, perhaps, is simply the desire to remain receptive to the most unexpected sources of inspiration,” Roth says. And at Susquehanna, faculty seem to have that notion down to a science.

Victoria Kidd is assistant director of advancement communications and editor of Susquehanna Currents.

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