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Great Lakes THATCamp Overview

March 22nd, 2010 by

This weekend, Michigan State played host to the Great Lakes THATCamp (@GLTHATCamp), an “un-conference” in humanities and technology. This was my first experience at a THATCamp or un-conference, and it was definitely a successful format that took some getting used to. Once I did, however, things went smoothly (Visit the original THATCamp page here). The process is as follows: to attend, you have to bring an idea, which is submitted a month or two ahead of time. 75 people are accepted, and they post their ideas to a blog to get things started. Other attendees comment on the posts, and get the discussion started. The first hour of the actual conference is dedicated all the attendees talking about possible sessions, scheduling them in rooms, and appointing facilitators. This was all put on a Google Spreadsheet, so that everyone could see it and add to it throughout the weekend.

Sessions were similarly informal: the topic was stated, people usually started by saying something like, “I’m here because of this and that reason”, and then conversation started. Questions were posed, problems solved, new ideas brought to the table and collaborations formed. While this was happening, I’d say about 75% of the attendees were on Twitter, posting links, quoting things that were said, and asking additional questions. People followed from “outside” the Camp, making suggestions, adding content, or asking questions. It was incredibly dynamic, both online and in the sessions, and made me truly value the possibilities of how different media could be used at a un- or non-un conference.

From the perspective of an archaeologist, it was an interesting experience. The overlap with humanists certainly lies in areas such as public history, public engagement, museums, and cultural heritage. Archaeologists have been using technology for a long time, so that overlap is fairly evident. These sessions did encourage me to think harder about applications of digital technology beyond data analysis, and into public engagement, in both similar and new ways. Certainly, my personal work and my work at Campus Archaeology (@capmsu) will benefit greatly. Also, there were sessions on technology and teaching, which is helpful for anyone who has to stand in front of a classroom. What the conference did so well was foster ideas. I will be putting up posts as I get time that are influenced by the things discussed in these sessions, as opposed to trying to talk about them all here. Stay tuned!

I’d like to congratulate the organizers, particularly Ethan Watrall (@captain_primate), for their hard work. It was a wonderful success. Anything that generates ideas and pushes people to think and interact in new ways is always a good thing, and should always be repeated.

There are ThatCamp’s being held across the country, so I would strongly encourage you all to look one up. The hash tag is #ThatCamp, for you Twitterers out there.

How Student Affairs will make me a better Professor

March 8th, 2010 by

Over the past two and a half years, I have worked in the Department of Student Life at Michigan State University, helping to coordinate the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Program. Although my time spent working with the office diminished from 25 to 10 to 5 hours a week, I have learned a great deal from this position that I would not have learned otherwise. Additionally, my girlfriend is also a student affairs professional, leading to many a conversation about what Student Affairs is and does. I have been, I feel, well exposed. Or at least, more exposed than most anthropology graduate students.

Needless to say, the culture in a student affairs office is dramatically different from that in my office in the Department of Anthropology. A lot of this has to do with the intent of the department: Student Life adopts a student-first orientation, where the single priority is students, particularly their “life outside of the classroom” (a phrase I hate, but people seem to keep using). An academic department such as Anthropology views their discipline first, and students are viewed as one of the priorities through that lens: how do we use anthropology to teach students about the world and how to view it critically? I think that what I have learned at Student Life will (and has been) valuable to my work as a member of an academic department for two reasons: first, it exposes me to a student-first perspective, and second, it provides me with in-depth knowledge about what student affairs programming exists and how I can use it to enhance what I do.

Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting that many faculty or student affairs professionals aren’t capable, or don’t already do, what I’m about to talk about. Many of them do. I’m simply writing about how my exposure to Student Affairs has led me to these realizations about how I hope to approach my professional life. Carry on.

When I walk in the doors at 101 Student Services, I’m responsible for looking at every idea from the perspective of the student. This means I have to look at our programming to figure out how it is relevant to a 19 year old student in 2010. How will this program benefit the student? How will get them there? How will the program get across its message in an effective, relevant way? In order to do this, you have to “know” the student body. You have to know how they work, what they do, what music they listen to, what music they don’t listen to, and so on. You also have to know about where students are developmentally, what skills they have, what they don’t have, why they do what they do. This is part of the student-first perspective. This perspective allows you to keep in touch with what students are thinking, how they perceive the world, and how they are struggling to function within it.

The importance for faculty and administrators in academic departments, then, seems obvious. Instead of asking how can we teach students through anthropology, we can ask how can we teach anthropology to students in ways they will find relevant to their lives and perspectives? How can our teaching help them develop into better people? Instead of focusing on what questions a student missed in office hours, a student perspective might lead to a discussion about studying habits, or what other elements of student’s life might be impacting their learning. Understanding what a student’s life is like will help me make a student’s education more valuable to them.

Working in Student Affairs has done another thing for me that is also important: it has opened my eyes to the number of things that are happening outside of academic departments. Even more important, it has become clear to me that these are not things that are happening separate of academia, they are happening along side it, and would be better if they were working with academia. Additionally, they offer things for our students that would make academic departments and classes work better. And when these collaborations do happen, it will be a great benefit for the partnership when I’m able to utilize a student-first perspective, in addition to an anthropology-first perspective (and for the student affairs side to do the same). Being able to make connections between academic and student affairs programming will help me a great deal in these situations.

Certainly, these are not the only things that I have learned from this experience, but I think they are the most important. There are plenty of other ways for faculty members to gain this perspective. What are some other important cross-over skills that you think I may have benefited from? On the flip side, do you think Student Affairs may have benefited from my perspective as a researcher? As an anthropologist?

The Class I want to Teach

March 1st, 2010 by

This semester, I’ve been enrolled in a course on college teaching, as well as doing the Graduate Engagement Certificate out of the Office of Engagement. Both experiences have me thinking hard about what type of teacher I hope to be, and also what kinds of courses I’d like to teach. This idea, although requiring a lot resources, time, and energy, would be the ultimate course for me. Let me know what you think.

The topic: Local Cultural History and Heritage. I want to teach a class that would incorporate things I enjoy, think are valuable, and want to convey: archaeology, history, digital humanities, community engagement, and developing an appreciation for community spaces and heritage. I’m going to pretend that this course is offered at MSU, for simplicity’s sake. The course will be on the small end, maybe 15-25. It will survey the literature on cultural heritage, public archaeology, public history, etc. It will work within the confines of a larger digital humanities type of project: the establishment of an interactive and historical city map. This map would provide detailed GIS information about the history of spaces within the City, probably divided by city block.

Such a course would require partnerships across the University and community. University wide, we would partner with a course on Geographic Information Systems: my students would research and create content, while the GIS students would work within the framework of the interactive map to manipulate this data so that it fits within the framework. They would work in groups: something like 2 from my course, 2 from the GIS course.

The research would be done on block-by-block units. Each student group would research a different block, and create the content for those areas: my students working on gathering historical data, GIS students inputting it, both providing interpretation. Admittedly, I read about a professor who was doing this, I think in Richmond, VA. What I want to do, however, takes this towards community engagement, not just for analytical research.

These groups would not stop at four students. The community would also be incorporated into the project. Residents of the neighborhood would be asked work with us, visiting archives, studying their past, providing interviews about the neighborhoods. They would work beside us at each step, learning the power of the past, while we would learn about cultural heritage development, as well as something about the community in which they live.

The final product would take many, many years. Most likely an entire career. I would work neighborhood to neighborhood, so that completed projects could happen more rapidly (So, for example, take Old Town and finish that, then move on to Groesbeck, or something). This way, these neighborhoods could utilize the information for school groups, or whatever.

This class would also have a companion piece: a summer field school. The data collected by students would result in a fantastic overview of these neighborhoods, and potentially identify a number of potential archaeological sites. A field school would allow another opportunity to work with the community, as students and residents worked together to excavate the site, reemphasizing the power of discovery through very tangible means.

Please let me know your thoughts. I am curious if any of you have heard of similar ideas, have any suggestions about how it could be made better, or think it’s just an unobtainable dream…

Photo: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Campus Culture and Teaching

February 11th, 2010 by

A long while back, I wrote a blog post about my views on colleges as culture factories. Long story short, I believe that the process of attending a university or college is to shape and mold a student into an individual with certain types of skills and values that are specific to the institution that he or she attended. So, for example, a graduate of Michigan State University should be representative of MSU’s cultural values: a practical leader who believes in community engagement and has a global perspective. Every element of a college education should reflect the values of the institution that is offering that education. Student Affairs programming should reinforce these values, department programs and degrees should reflect these values, community engagement programming should reflect these values, and, for our topic in this post: teaching should reflect these values.

Teaching has been on my mind a lot lately, considering I am enrolled in a course on Teaching Higher Education this spring. Naturally, I wanted to see how well my thoughts on campus culture fit into a model of teaching, and how well it informs my teaching philosophy, which is in progress (and will be viewable on my portfolio, here).

Teaching, I believe, should incorporate more than simply dispensing knowledge about a topic from a teacher to a student. Certainly, I think it is important that a student understand how to read stratigraphy, and a physics professor wants them to understand how gravity works, and an English professor wants them to understand iambic pentameter. But these don’t necessarily reflect a University’s culture. These are simply means to this end. Why do I want my students to understand stratigraphy? How does understanding iambic pentameter reflect the values of the institution that we teach at? These are, I think, very important questions that faculty members don’t ask themselves enough.

An example. I am a teacher of archaeology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. This institution prides itself on a commitment to the environment. I can easily teach a course on archaeology at this school. I can even utilize the fantastic archaeology museum next door to really enhance my teaching, to give a hands-on approach so that people can see how archaeological interpretation can be recreated. But this still isn’t connected to the College’s mission of environmental stewardship.

However, if I expand my reach, and begin to talk about the use of archaeology as a means of cultural heritage development, and discuss how a greater appreciation for the history of our space can result in better care for our spaces, may very well help to place this course into a context that makes the class relevant to our college mission.

There are obvious benefits to this. First, it means that you always have an answer to the question, “why am I in this class, anyway?” Answer: “You’re in this class because you came to St. Mary’s College, which means you appreciate the environment, and this is how what your learning here connects to that mission.”

Second, it makes teaching a little bit more challenging. Making this connection can be fun. How do you keep your class relevant? The objective isn’t just to figure out how to teach the material, but how to do it in a a way that makes it relevant to the overall education of the student.

Third, it makes it fun for the student. All of a sudden, they may start seeing connections between classes that otherwise seem unrelated. Most importantly, since their education is more explicit, they begin to learn how they can apply these values in their lives.

Fourth, it makes you more relevant. When the Dean comes knocking and wants to know why your department or classes are important to the college, you can pretty much give the same answer you gave to that student who wanted to know why your class was important.

Of course, there is a lot that might not work out so well, and this obviously makes the process of teaching more difficult. It also makes course plans non-transferable to other institutions. What are your thoughts? Is this important? Realistic? Or am I still in my pipe-dream-never-taught-a-class world?

The internship: why you should have one

June 13th, 2009 by

One of the most valuable elements of both the programs that I am working with, Campus Archaeology and the SARVP Program, is the internship. I have started internships for both of these programs, and I am starting to figure out what it is that really makes them valuable, and what makes them successful. I thought I would discuss some of those things here.

The internship is mutually beneficial, and should always be viewed that way. For the employer, they are getting free or inexpensive labor. For the Intern, a unique experience is being gained, one that gives them “real world” work experience, and something for the resume. In order for your internship to be good, however, you must provide the student with a unique experience that is not only “real world” work, but is also educational. They are students, after all, and they are there to learn, not to work.

As an employer of an intern, you must keep in mind two things: what you need done, and how you can make getting that work done educational and fun for the Intern. For example, at the Campus Archaeology Program, we realized that we did not have enough hands to keep up with the backlog of artifacts that needed to be cleaned and catalogued, and we also didn’t have the funds to hire an extra person. The internship became the next logical solution: we could get an undergraduate who could do this work for us. However, we also realized that putting an intern in the basement with a bucket of water for 16 weeks wasn’t exactly an educational experience. So, we have gradually added new elements to the internship. Now, the intern must put a presentation together analyzing the artifacts, and telling us something about the Campus. They also must maintain a blog, interacting with the public about their work and project. This makes the internship more than busy work, it makes it educational.

Internships, therefore, provide the employer to try something new. The Intern is not someone to run off photocopies and pick up your dry cleaning; they are bright young minds who you may use to try something new. Maybe there is a project that you’ve wanted to start up but haven’t had the resources or time to put it into play. An intern might be the perfect person to work on that project, or find out if it is viable. Such a responsibility would be rewarding for the intern (they’d feel special being entrusted with such a project) and you’d be able to find out if the project would work. You see this a lot with the emergence of social media: companies realize that it’s important, but don’t know how it works. Enter the Intern (MSUFCU has been advertising for an internship that looks wonderful).

Making this educational has another added bonus for the employer: it provides an opportunity for mentorship. This is a chance for people outside of academia to have an impact on the professional development of future professionals…this is a burden that should not be taken lightly. It is in fact a huge opportunity to help shape the kind of co-worker you yourself would like to work alongside. Introduce your interns to people you work with, take them to business lunches, let them sit in an important meeting. The whole point is for the intern to see how your profession works, and keeping them locked up in a cubicle all summer isn’t an experience, it’s a job (and a bad one, at that). Put your best face forward, and woo the Intern. If they’re worth it, you may be able to hire them after they graduate.

So, please consider the benefits of the internship; not only for yourself, but for the student you will be mentoring. Make it a unique position that is unlike any other in your office. Interns aren’t there to work the copy machine, they are there to do something meaningful, educational, and unique. Embrace your role as an educator and mentor. Take advantage of the opportunity to do something creative, or take a chance on a project you’ve wanted to do but not had the resources. The more energy you put into the internship, the better the dividends for your company, and the better the educational experience for the student.

some success at the SARVPBlog

June 9th, 2009 by

For the past year, I have maintained a blog for the peer educators in the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Program. The purpose of the blog was to keep the students up to date on current events relating to issues of sexual assault, relationship violence, and gender. The hope is to expand their dialogue about these topics, and to provide them with current events that their students in the workshops may discuss or know about.

The response from the Peer Eds last year had been underwhelming to say the least. I received few comments on articles, and, by monitoring the traffic through google, I could tell that there was very little visitation. Although this was the least of the program’s concerns throughout the year, it still told me something about the lack of exuberance for the material exhibited by our students. Likely, this was a product of the rocky year that we had: delays in programming, loss of Peer Educators, and small turnout for our workshops. Why participate in the blog if it was part of a program that was shaky to begin with?

Fortunately, this year’s group is mostly new, and has no history with the program’s struggles. Our first post of the year, put up over a week ago, has generated a large response. We have had as many comments on this post as we did all last year. The comments are thoughtful, intelligent, and positive. The students have picked out the elements I was hoping, and have brought up some new ideas I hadn’t thought of. And all of this over the summer. I am hoping that these discussions will continue throughout the summer, and provide solid momentum into training and the workshops.

Class lecture

January 13th, 2009 by

I gave a class lecture in Dr. Goldstein’s honors section of Introduction to Archaeology yesterday, since she wasn’t able to be in class. I presented a bit on Campus Archaeology, and our project from this past spring at Faculty Row. It was the first day, so I had to do a little bit of introduction and cover some basic definitions. I only talked for about 30-40 minutes, and used a powerpoint that included a lot of photos taken by my sister, Kim (a budding professional photographer, check out her work), as well as some photos from the field taken by Lynne and Chris Stawski. I tried to use some of the advice given by Garr Renyolds in his book Presentation Zen, and I think it turned out pretty well. You can view it below:

Peer Educator Training

November 28th, 2008 by

This past weekend, we held training for our Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Peer Educators. We did two full days, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome. The students were engaged, asked fantastic questions, and seemed incredibly motivated to be there. We had some trouble with students not showing up who we thought were going to, and our numbers have dwindled…at the beginning of the year, we had 25 men and 25 women, now we are down to 11 men and maybe 15 women. The change in schedule really hurt our numbers. That said, I was still amazed with the students we have, particularly the men. We did gendered break out sessions throughout the training, and the men were incredibly engaging, thoughtful, and honest about their feelings, thoughts on the topic, and questions that they had.
As someone who spent a lot of time in college trying to get just a couple men together to talk about these issues, this weekend was even more rewarding. I am very hopeful that they will put together a men’s anti-violence organization. I suggested it to them, and told them I would help them, but said I wasn’t going to do the work or force them…that’s not my place. Hopefully, they will take me up on it.

Who says Physics isn't dope?

August 1st, 2008 by

So, for those of you who do not know, my Dad is a Physicist at MSU, and does research at CERN in Switzerland. From what I can gather, he runs particles into each other to discover how the universe was created, or something. It’s beyond me, I fully admit it. Bottom line, he’s smart, and does smart things, with really smart people.

Thankfully, some of these smart people realized that they needed to connect with the younger generation, and put together a rap that explains what it is that they do. For those you who like things explained the old fashioned way, here’s a link to a nytimes article.