[URBANTH-L]Follow-up on SUNTA Teaching Workshop at AAA

Mark Westmoreland 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?"
He nodded.
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  
on time?"

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
Doctoral Candidate
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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