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

Sam Beck sbeck at med.cornell.edu
Fri Dec 28 09:06:05 EST 2007

SUNTA list readers,

Bob Rotenberg's efforts to address teaching and learning is admirable and Mark Westmoreland's evaluation of Bob's workshop attests to the value of what Bob is doing.  Moreover, this issue of teaching and learning is a curiously empty aspect of the AAA.  We do have a Society for Anthropology and Education and periodically there are efforts to discuss teaching and learing in the General Anthropology Newsletter.  However, neither vehicle does what many other disciplines do, Sociology in particular -our kin.  That is to say, there are no publication venues that allow for the surfacing of educational and learning strategies in the form of academic articles that legitimizes what some of us have devoted our lives to do--teaching students.

Ironically, while many institutions of higher learning speak about research, teaching, and outreach as the central components of what academicians do, it is rare that an individual who teaches well, but does not publish in the specific genre of the moment, will get tenure or gets promoted.  That is not to say that teaching does not count in being evaluated for promotion; it is secondary.  If we could only give teaching an academic value --through publishing, theorizing teaching and learning--we could provide ourselves the political legitimacy that teaching deserves in the academic establishment.  

We need to circle around Bob's efforts and reach out beyond SUNTA.  The low turnout, as Mark describes it, for Bob's workshop is an indicator of this subject area and this aspect of anthropological professional practice's status with in the AAA.  It is not seen as a legitimate part of what anthropologists produce, certainly not valued within the structure of the academy and the institutions of higher learning where we work.


----- Original Message -----
From: Mark Westmoreland <westmoreland at mail.utexas.edu>
Date: Wednesday, December 26, 2007 11:05 am
Subject: [URBANTH-L]Follow-up on SUNTA Teaching Workshop at AAA

> 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.
> "SUNTA?"
> 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?"
> "Absolutely."
> 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  
> experience.
> 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:
> http://mediatedcultures.net/ksudigg/?p=119
> 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  
> application.
> 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.
> Sincerely,
> 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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