[URBANTH-L]RE: URBANTH-L Digest, Vol 163, Issue 2

Jennifer Spence jen.spence at hotmail.com
Fri Dec 28 18:01:16 EST 2007

I am a teacher who is also a grad student in Anthro in the CUNY system.
Reading the comments on the excellence of Prof. Rotenberg's approach (the 
use of rubrics, crystallizing one's teaching philosophy and objectives as a 
professor), I wanted to offer some thoughts from the perspective of someone 
who is both a NYS certified teacher and a NYC university student:  I truly 
believe that professors should be required to complete classes on 
instructional techniques, curriculum design, beneficial testing practices, 
diffentiation of curriculum for multilevel students (especially salient 
within the Hunter Anthro Dept where grads are often stuck taking class with 

While I would say that 50% of the instructors I had were excellent 
educators, I regret to say that the other 50% was not: not for lack of 
passion but for lack of knowledge on HOW to teach and make the teaching 
stick.  A prime example would be an adjunct (PhD) who taught my Biological 
Anthropology class.  The power point presentations he created were amazing 
and chock full of facts,  but his presentations conflicted with the info in 
the biology textbook and would leave those of us with a weak grasp of the 
concepts confused because he'd told us not to rely on the text's information 
or mathematical formulae.  This situation was compounded by our exams: he 
would randomly choose 2 questions from 14-weeks worth of lecture material 
for each exam.  Yes, there was an in-class review where we could ask 
questions and yes, he did indicate the material most likely to be on the 
exam.  Except that only a third of the indicated material was actually on 
the exam and the rest was randomly chosen.  The only students who received 
good exam grades on these exams were those with either anthropology or 
biology backgrounds.  I managed to achieve a B-; considering I hadn't taken 
biology nor an exam in 15 years, I suppose that was not half bad.  What I 
did gain was an understanding of how crucial proper testing/quizzing 
practices are to students' retention of knowledge: there is no way on earth 
that the average student can retain 14 lectures worth of material on the 
growth of genetics and the human genome well enough to be able to answer 28 
randomly chosen short answer/fill-in-the-blank questions.  Needless to say, 
after enough of us complained and the school discovered his exams required 
huge bell curves, he was canned at the end of the semester.

Another example can be drawn from a couple other lecture-based classes with 
a mixed grad/undergrad student base.  Our anthropology grad student 
population was low and unable to fill the enough seats to create a grad-only 
class, so the department was forced to make it mixed enrollment.  
Unfortunately, this led to extreme dumbing-down of material and despite the 
fact that the professors were supposed to create more challenging options 
for us, they often didn't within the classroom material - many of them not 
even structuring the lectures, allowing questions to determine the 
information distributed versus their goals for the day.  It was quite 

As a public school teacher in both elementary and junior high schools, I am 
required to fully plan and prepare all of my lessons and curriculum 
structure, which are guided and held to comparison with the state 
standards/expectations for the level of achievement of each student by the 
termination of each grade.  If I were to allow either of the above 
situations to occur I would be rated unsatisfactory and my license would be 
at stake.  Why should college/university professors be held to less?  We are 
responsible for laying the groundwork for critical understanding and 
reasoning - but they are responsible for training these students to be able 
to go out and perform competently in their fields of choice?  I entered the 
graduate program with a non-anthropology/humanities background and was 
matriculated after receiving As in both my Ethnology and Linguistics 
courses.  Why should it have taken me 5 years to figure out the structure of 
an anthropological argument - why didn't anyone initially point me towards a 
theory course - or require that I take one in addition to the regular 

I am thankful for those professors who provided me with much needed guidance 
and excellent instruction.  I am hoping that this email might provide for 
some discussion which may lead to future students being assured of excellent 
instruction with all instructors.

Best regards,
Jen Spence

>From: urbanth-l-request at lists.ysu.edu
>Reply-To: urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu
>To: urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu
>Subject: URBANTH-L Digest, Vol 163, Issue 2
>Date: Fri, 28 Dec 2007 12:00:20 -0500
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>Today's Topics:
>    1. Follow-up on SUNTA Teaching Workshop at AAA (Mark Westmoreland)
>Date: Wed, 26 Dec 2007 10:05:19 -0600
>From: Mark Westmoreland <westmoreland at mail.utexas.edu>
>To: urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu
>Subject: [URBANTH-L]Follow-up on SUNTA Teaching Workshop at AAA
>Message-ID: <76A01274-138E-4631-BB47-FE0A21FCA4E5 at mail.utexas.edu>
>In-Reply-To: <C36F0AB1.653C%rrotenbe at depaul.edu>
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>Dear SUNTA members,
>I'd like to report to the society the details of the workshop offered =20=
>by Bob Rotenberg at the recent AAA meeting in DC. I think that many =20
>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 =20=
>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. =20=
>In the middle of the four circles Bob had a projector and his laptop =20
>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 =20
>on time?"
>By 3:05 two more people had shown up. At 3:15 the fifth person showed =20=
>up, but she hadn't registered. "Is it okay?" Bob improvised.
>After an hour the man from california apologized for his persistent =20
>cough and excused himself. It was only a short while longer before my =20=
>stomach started growling louder than the discussion.
>My reason for describing the workshop this way is to highlight a =20
>general problem with the workshops at this year's AAA meeting. All of =20=
>them were located in a different hotel than the presentations, which =20
>I think discouraged many would be attendees. I must admit I =20
>registered for five workshops and only attended the SUNTA one. =20
>Perhaps, other workshops were better attended, but it was a pity that =20=
>more people didn't attend the SUNTA teaching workshop.
>I'm so glad I did attend this workshop. Bob Rotenberg is clearly a =20
>master. His expectations are high, but he knows how to motivate =20
>students. His ideas are heretical for conventional teaching models - =20
>"Graduate school is the last great wasteland" - but all the better =20
>for it. He transforms the classroom into a collaborative and creative =20=
>space of academic excellence.
>In discussing an international studies course that he teaches, he =20
>indicated that he only had two major assignments for the course and =20
>the expectations for these assignments could be fulfilled with a =20
>three-page letter. But the amount of initiative that he requires of =20
>his students and the protracted process of students conducting =20
>research and then reporting back to the class enables these =20
>intensive, self-motivated assignments to transform the learning =20
>To galvanize these points, Rotenberg showed us a video made by Mike =20
>Wesch and his students at KSU that should be required viewing of all =20
>professors wishing to understand the student perspective better. For =20
>more info, see:
>Although one of Rotenberg's mantras was that teaching is about the =20
>students not the professor, his techniques are not only for the =20
>benefit of the students. As educators we can benefit greatly from =20
>reconsidering traditional approaches. For instance, Rotenberg =20
>advocates building rubrics to help clarify and quicken the grading =20
>process. He claimed that he had to grade 30 twenty-page research =20
>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 =20=
>philosophy, which not only helps us articulate our personal =20
>contribution to the classroom, but is a vital document in the job =20
>search and tenure review processes.
>The one critique of the workshop has to do with framing. If the =20
>workshop was to help participants design an intro SUNTA course, it =20
>would equally help someone design a course on any topic. So it was =20
>less about specifically designing a SUNTA course and more about =20
>highlighting the SUNTA aspects available to any course.
>For example, Rotenberg gave us sample syllabi of two cultural =20
>anthropology courses. Although introductory courses, the design and =20
>assignments required students to take their anthropology to the =20
>"field" by studying facets of urban and transnational culture in =20
>their city. Field reports replace term papers and tests.
>As presented in the workshop, SUNTA courses are based on: =20
>Anthropology where and with whom we live, the local provides the =20
>learning laboratory, whereas the global is the goal, and the course =20
>assignments and texts help make this local/global link. This broad =20
>application may have been undermined by a seemingly specific =20
>Nevertheless, I found the workshop extremely worthwhile and wondered =20
>why more members didn't take advantage of this opportunity. I hope =20
>similar workshops will be offered in the future. Perhaps, more than =20
>five SUNTA members will attend.
>Mark R. Westmoreland
>Doctoral Candidate
>Am=E9rico Paredes Center for Cultural Studies
>Department of Anthropology
>The University of Texas at Austin
>One University Station C3200
>Austin, TX 78712-0303
>URBANTH-L mailing list
>URBANTH-L at lists.ysu.edu
>End of URBANTH-L Digest, Vol 163, Issue 2

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