Today most of the HU Honours Crew participated in the City as Text experience, which is a prelude to the NCHC conference every year. City as Text is an experiential way to get to know the city you’re in. With a small group of people you don’t know upfront, you are going to visit a museum, park or specific part of the city. By public transport or walking you get there and with all the senses you try to get a hold on to that place: talking to other visitors or employers, noticing art, historical elements, cultural aspects and the whole environment. A couple of questions from the organization help to give focus. Afterwards all the groups gather and with the other ones who went to the same place, you exchange experiences. In the end all groups gather and present their findings. It’s an inspiring way of learning which can easily be translated to a pedagogy for your own students. Read this article for example.
Denver, the mile high city
by Carien Touwen
We’ve been in Denver now for three full days and are slowly getting a feel for this city. It is fascinating in many respects. Straight and broad roads reflect the organized and well planned history of an industrialized settlement. High buildings show the recent economic position as Colorado’s modern capital and main city in the eastern Rockies area.
The area started from mining and agriculture, in the nineteenth century. The strategic position at the eastern foothills of the Rockies gave Denver a logical support and supply fuction. Beautiful old buildings, sometimes a bit hidden between the skyscrapers are well preserved. Denver seems proud of its historic past.
The gold diggers and frontier men of the early days were soon followed by other immigrants. This is still reflected in the large Hispanic community in the city. Many restaurants serve spicy Mexican food. On Monday night I enjoyed a great chicken enchilada, not just great in taste but also in size, as it goes with most meals here in the United States. As a European it’s the safest option to just order small portions. Nevertheless obesity seems to be less of a problem than in New Orleans, the host of last year’s honours conference.
At lunch time the business people come out of their offices to enjoy a healthy lunch in one of the trendy sandwich bars along 16th Street. When lunch time is over the street again is the place for tourists, conference visitors and homeless people. We walk around with the scent of marihuana just around the corner. The production and consumption are legal in Colorado since the start of this year and lots of people seem to enjoy the freedom.
Modern day Denver is a center for finance, high tech, energy industry and education. We still haven’t figured out how all the universities, with Colorado and Denver in their names, relate and which is which. This vibrant and modern city however still beats on the laid back attitude of the old west. The way people treat you in shops and restaurants, the time they take to explain how to get around in public transport when once again we are on the wrong bus, it’s all rather relaxed. Friendly questions and genuine interest for our Dutch honours gang in our fancy baseball jackets make us feel welcome. After lunch yesterday we realized we forgot to ask for a receipt. In all a good idea to only print receipts when customers ask. Denver has high ambitions as it comes to environmental issues and climate change. Knowing the strict system of reimbursement at our own university however, we went back and asked if it was still possible to get one and it was. No grumpy comments, a smile and just scrolling back in the computer until she came up with our receipts. She printed them and again with a smile and the friendly remark that she remembered our order as I made some small talk with her, she handed over three receipts.
Below you can read our City as Text experiences, by the HU Honours crew.
Dorine City as Text: Destination Denver Public Library.
‘I teamed up with honours student Rachel (Virginia) and honours director Angela (North Carolina). We went to the Denver Public Library. Designed by famed architect Michael Graves, this central library opened in 1995. At 540,000 square feet, the library spans a city block and has 47 miles of bookshelves. So much for the facts. Now the further exploring could start. We were walking around, observing, listening, smelling, talking… We were checking out the various collections. We discovered a lot of stuffed animals on top of the bookshelves in the children’s section. We came across the Western History Art Gallery on the 5th floor. We found numerous public access computers. What struck us most was the number of homeless people present. Some were sleeping, some were using a computer. It looks like the library is serving as a shelter as well. While leaving we saw a group of children entering the building. We had a great time exploring. What an awesome way to learn about a new destination.’
Annelies ‘My destination of City as Text was the History Colorado Center, a very nice surprise because I didn’t sign up. I went there with a very passionate science teacher of a community college in Texas and with a coordinator of the Honours programme at the university of North Dakota. We stepped into the history of Colorado, literally with a time machine that brought us to different episodes. There were also a lot of hands-on-activities to learn about the people who lived there, their struggles and challenges. The Ute Indian tribes were the original Colaradans and they were described as maintaining strong values of family, leadership, culture and sustainability. Substitute family with community and you see the similarities with Honours :).’
Carolien ‘Sakura square is a tiny part of the block between 19th and 20th street and between Lawrence and Larimer. The square is a memorial to governor Robert Carr who, in 1941 during WWII, invited the Japanese to Colorado to give them a safe haven. Due to the war between USA and Japan many Japanese families had been brought to intern camps, because the Americans feared that they would engage in espionage. Although lots of Japanese people took up on the invitation and Japanese culture must have flourished around that time, not much is left of it now. The square is very tiny, there is one grocery shop selling all sorts of Japanese stuff, one small restaurant with delicious authentic food, a coffee & tea house and a Buddhist temple. Most Japanese people we saw were of age. It looked like a culture’s decay. The restaurant played American music and the apartments, which used to house Japanese retirees, was now open to anyone. However, it is certainly a demonstration of the open mindedness of the Denver community that other City as Text groups reported as well.’
Hedwigh Santa Fe Art district: a special neighbourhood in transition.
‘A blend of Latino inhabitants, American artists and new small businesses all living and working in an integrated way with respect for each others authenticity. This was mainly successful because the people in charge had all stakeholders participate in extended sessions of dialogue and connected to the slow organic growing force from within this community. The focus has been on providing space for every social background involved. Unity in diversity. The energy in the area felt vibrant.’
Rein ‘Together with three American students I visited the Union Station and the Oxford Hotel. The hotel dates from 1891 and it is filled with old times ambiance. The interior is beautifully decorated in Victorian and Art Deco style. Very special: we got to explore the whole hotel. The Union State station has an interesting story. The old great hall now is a hotel, with high prizes from 30 to 600 dollar per night. Behind the building recently new platforms have been constructed. Besides that I saw something I’d never seen before: the Street Boutige. A small clothing store within a van. It was great connecting with the students. During lunch we talked about the differences and similarities between Dutch and American honours education.’
Herry ‘City as Text for me is a concept with multiple layers. With three other people which I didn’t know I went to the History Colorado Center. A really amazing interactive museum for all different ages about the history of Colorado. Afterwards we went to have lunch together and walked down 16th Street to Union Station and went back to the conference hotel for the wrap up.
The first layer of City as Text is about learning to know each other and about each others background. The second layer is about different interests en perspectives. Which exhibits do you want to see and why? It’s all about asking questions and being curious and observing from another point of view. Not only within the group but also by talking to other people who are living in their own reality e.g. homeless people, visitors of the center or people who work there. The wrap up when the different groups came together again wasn’t only about what we saw at the museum but also about growing a sense of awareness of bigger issues as water usage and shortage in California and Arizona or racism. People where ready to discuss these greater issues. You are going in someway to a deeper level of discussion: the third layer.
It’s also a great way to facilitate networking by exchanging email addresses and business cards. That gave me the chance to invite these people to our blogs. “Keep in contact!”
Oh by the way, it was also fun!
Not everybody participated in City as Text. Since the conference started this morning, Robert went to one of the first sessions.
Flipped Classroom & Honours Pedagogy
‘To my utter dismay I listened for an hour as administrators discussed the flipped classroom and active learning. Hardly any lecturer in the room. It was, however, not a complete loss. There were a few people in the room who were able to make some sensible sounds. For example; the misnomer that flipped classroom is a remedy for everything and that all lecturing is bad by definition. There were some education professionals who actually seem to have given it some real thought and did not stick to the one liner slogans.
What is key, one administrator argued, in gaining lecturer acceptance of flipped classroom didactics, is asking “What is the teaching objective here”? Content or skill? One administrator made a good and clear argument that content could effectively be outsourced by the lecturer, be it by requiring that reading assigned actually be read, by watching online lectures, researching web resources on the topic, etc. Displacing this content transmission to outside the classroom effectively frees up scarce class time for focusing on skills development for example by being able to observe a research or writing process, thereby gaining insight into what is going wrong in the process that results in poor writing, and being able to address that in the class time.
A historian made a passionate counter plea for lectures, making a clear point that, depending on the domain, lectures can be very useful teaching tools. A historian who is able to paint politico-social-cultural relations in a lecture around the topic at hand provides a valuable and insightful inroads to the history process of thinking through providing an integrated perspective of history.
One of the panel described her approach to flipped classroom in a Leadership course, in which, progressively throughout the term she retreated further and further to the back of the class room, pushing the students to lead the course. This was accomplished by having them prepare and hold lectures themselves. The role of the educator was pure process monitoring.
An astrophysics lecturer explained his approach to flipping the class, making clear that students in STEM courses could not be allowed to lead on content in class, as in a class on Leadership, as that would then devolve into “the stars are pretty”. Through pre-reading and mandatory comments, through an online platform, on the reading and comments on peer comments prior to the class, the lecturer could read and get insight into how the students thinking was developing and refer back to comments in a discussion in class, while still retaining control over dishing out content. He saw his role as helping students also navigate the huge resource of up-to-date information on astrophysics that is on the web.
A discussion about the ability of students to “succeed” did arise from this. Where honours students are accustomed to succeeding in traditional educational settings (i.e. lectures & exams), they are going to feel unhappy or feel a certain anxiety about their ability to succeed in a different model such as the flipped classroom where learning is experimental and the students are suddenly tasked with taking ownership.
What it all boils down to? Different strokes for different folks but the concept is simple. Find a way to shift student contact time from broadcasting content to providing feedback on work-in-progress and process (when and where appropriate and to the level that is called for using means that support learning). And don’t mention the words flipped class to students. Just do it.’