The last two weeks I spent traveling with a group of students through Europe – visiting the Hague, the city of global peace and Justice; Brussels, the European and NATO capital; and Geneva, home of the United Nations ‘Palace of Nations’ and many other inter- and nongovernmental organizations. It was quite an experience. See our blog at:
During the Fall 2015 semester I oversaw the capstone research projects of nine Bentley University Honors students. The students are required to set up and execute an original research project in the very short time frame of just a single semester. I was impressed by the results the students presented in an article-style paper and a presentation.
Yesterday all Bentley University Honors students presented their work in the annual Honors Conference, where students, parents, faculty, and other interested people can come and listen to the presentation. With great pleasure, I moderated two of the sessions. It was an inspiring event with impressive work presented.
The semester is already done. I greatly enjoyed teaching the ‘day bomb’ double block class on Globalization. And, of course, the three sections of Comparative Government & Politics on Mondays and Thursdays.
Today Dr. Vinicius de Carvalho, a visiting scholar from the Brazil Institute at King’s College in London, and I co-taught a case study on Brazil as an example of an emerging economy and a contentious democracy in three consecutive classes of GLS102 Comparative Government and Politics. With nearly full attendance and at times quite lively debate, I think we offered our students a valuable learning opportunity. And personally I learned a lot by teaching in a team. It was a real pleasure.
The attacks on Brussels last week have so many severe consequences. The political and social impact is tremendous. On a smaller yet annoying scale it has an impact on me. Some of the students, who registered for my program to Europe – with travel to Brussels – have withdrawn. Though disappointing, I can understand their (and their parents’) reasoning. While I adapt the program to a smaller scale, I consider what it means for the rest of the group and our trip.
During the forum, the four rather senior professors in the panel elaborated on questions all us instructors ourselves at times: what makes good teaching, what makes excellent teaching, how do we evaluate teaching etc.. As to be expected, the panel had no concrete answers to what makes teaching ‘excellent’, but just by listening to the panelist, the audience learns a lot, gets to think, and picks up suggestions, among them for instance:
- How ‘bad’ teaching discourages students;
- How grading without feed back is a missed teaching opportunity;
- How scholarship and being a master of the material is essential;
- Yet how charisma and ‘creative’ teaching are highly valuable as well;
- How student reviews like ‘love this class’ & ‘great professor’, and very engaged students do not per se mean that students learn a lot.
I have to put some emphasis on the seniority of the panelists. These professors all had long careers at MIT and beyond, winning several ‘exemplary contribution to undergraduate teaching’ awards etc. In my point of view, the long careers of these professors and their many recognitions took away a little bit of the objectivity that, I think, is necessary when talking about what makes teaching ‘excellent’ in general in classrooms today. Of course experience is very valuable, but it might also lead to some lack of openness to more recent insights.
There was quite some discussion on the value of ‘lecture’ style courses versus more discursive ways of teaching. It seems that the panelists appreciated lecture-style instruction – one professor even arguing that it gave her the opportunity to engage in conversations with 300 students at the same time!
Quite some discussion centered around the use of technology in and beyond the class room (including moving teaching completely online like in MOOCs etc.). All panelists were involved in such projects, but all favored the ‘human’ factor of actual classroom engagement.
That led to an exchange on how institutional context and the course subject influence and determine teaching style and teaching methods. Obviously at Bentley we teach much smaller classes, for instance, which has consequences for how we teach and what makes ‘excellent’ teaching at our school.
A last topic of discussion, which I found interesting, is the question (based on tenure requirements, or the Bentley profile categories), if and how ‘good’ teachers should teach more, while other faculty members should focus more on research to maintain the scholarly nature of the institution.
Already we are at the end of the semester. I taught three classes in ‘Comparative Government and Politics’ and a small but intense research seminar for honors students, the capstone class. Good results!
Together with my colleague Asbed Kotchikian I prepared a delegation of Bentley University students to represent the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan at this year’s Northeastern Model Arab League Conference, held at my (most recent) alma mater Northeastern University here in Boston, Massachusetts from November 6 to 8. It was the first time in over ten years that Bentley students participated. After an initial acute need to adapt to the strict procedures of the conference, our content-driven preparation paid off. It was a pleasure to see our nine students participate in debates, motion writing, and socializing among their own delegation and the others. Two of our students were recognized for the ‘outstanding’ contributions.
A swift spring semester concluded already!