[URBANTH-L]Follow-up on SUNTA Teaching Workshop at AAA
westmoreland at mail.utexas.edu
Wed Dec 26 10:05:19 EST 2007
Dear SUNTA members,
I'd like to report to the society the details of the workshop offered
by Bob Rotenberg at the recent AAA meeting in DC. I think that many
of you would have enjoyed it.
Let me first set the scene.
Setting: Embassy Room, Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, DC.
I arrived about 10 minutes early. Nobody was there except Bob who was
still setting up.
"Are we having a workshop here?"
Password - affirmative.
He was arranging the chairs into four circles. Each with five chairs.
In the middle of the four circles Bob had a projector and his laptop
set up to present his powerpoint.
"Are you expecting many people?" I asked.
"Oh Yeah! We have 19 registered!" He is very confident. I believe him.
I wanted to make a phone call so I ask, "Are we going to get started
By 3:05 two more people had shown up. At 3:15 the fifth person showed
up, but she hadn't registered. "Is it okay?" Bob improvised.
After an hour the man from california apologized for his persistent
cough and excused himself. It was only a short while longer before my
stomach started growling louder than the discussion.
My reason for describing the workshop this way is to highlight a
general problem with the workshops at this year's AAA meeting. All of
them were located in a different hotel than the presentations, which
I think discouraged many would be attendees. I must admit I
registered for five workshops and only attended the SUNTA one.
Perhaps, other workshops were better attended, but it was a pity that
more people didn't attend the SUNTA teaching workshop.
I'm so glad I did attend this workshop. Bob Rotenberg is clearly a
master. His expectations are high, but he knows how to motivate
students. His ideas are heretical for conventional teaching models -
"Graduate school is the last great wasteland" - but all the better
for it. He transforms the classroom into a collaborative and creative
space of academic excellence.
In discussing an international studies course that he teaches, he
indicated that he only had two major assignments for the course and
the expectations for these assignments could be fulfilled with a
three-page letter. But the amount of initiative that he requires of
his students and the protracted process of students conducting
research and then reporting back to the class enables these
intensive, self-motivated assignments to transform the learning
To galvanize these points, Rotenberg showed us a video made by Mike
Wesch and his students at KSU that should be required viewing of all
professors wishing to understand the student perspective better. For
more info, see:
Although one of Rotenberg's mantras was that teaching is about the
students not the professor, his techniques are not only for the
benefit of the students. As educators we can benefit greatly from
reconsidering traditional approaches. For instance, Rotenberg
advocates building rubrics to help clarify and quicken the grading
process. He claimed that he had to grade 30 twenty-page research
papers the week before, but that it took him only three hours!
Or, as another example, he asked us to think about writing a teaching
philosophy, which not only helps us articulate our personal
contribution to the classroom, but is a vital document in the job
search and tenure review processes.
The one critique of the workshop has to do with framing. If the
workshop was to help participants design an intro SUNTA course, it
would equally help someone design a course on any topic. So it was
less about specifically designing a SUNTA course and more about
highlighting the SUNTA aspects available to any course.
For example, Rotenberg gave us sample syllabi of two cultural
anthropology courses. Although introductory courses, the design and
assignments required students to take their anthropology to the
"field" by studying facets of urban and transnational culture in
their city. Field reports replace term papers and tests.
As presented in the workshop, SUNTA courses are based on:
Anthropology where and with whom we live, the local provides the
learning laboratory, whereas the global is the goal, and the course
assignments and texts help make this local/global link. This broad
application may have been undermined by a seemingly specific
Nevertheless, I found the workshop extremely worthwhile and wondered
why more members didn't take advantage of this opportunity. I hope
similar workshops will be offered in the future. Perhaps, more than
five SUNTA members will attend.
Mark R. Westmoreland
Américo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies
Department of Anthropology
The University of Texas at Austin
One University Station C3200
Austin, TX 78712-0303
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