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Cross Campus Collaboration: Success Stories

ANTHROPOLOGY STUDENTS LEARNING TOGETHER BY JOINTLY COMPLETING A CROSS CAMPUS COURSE ASSIGNMENT

The background:

In 2011, two introductory anthropology courses (SOCI 1006) were designed - one at Mona and the other at St Augustine. Although the course readings and some topics were different, consultation between the lecturers in charge (Mona: Moji Anderson ; St Augustine: Dylan Kerrigan) led to collaboration on the course assignment.

In the best traditions of anthropological culture contact, the two lecturers searched for a way to connect the students at the two campuses. They considered smart classrooms for debates/cross-campus presentations, weekly team blogs, weekly team tumblrs, and email exchanges on key anthropological concepts. Ultimately, they settled on a modified version of an anthropology assignment found by Dr Anderson on a USA university syllabus. The Caribbean version was dubbed "Representing the Other / Re-presenting Difference".

This assignment required collaboration among students at each campus through social media: email addresses, Blackberry instant messenger, Facebook, Skype, etc. in order to represent each other's lives. Students would engage key anthropological ideas such as the politics of representation, stereotypes, working in groups, cultural differences, cultural relativity, empathy, visual anthropology and anthropological thinking more generally. As anthropology is the most social of the social sciences and is based on the success of human interaction, lecturers hoped that students would develop this skill early and would better understand anthropology in distinction to other disciplines.

Indicators of success:

Dr Anderson and Dr Kerrigan, as well as Mr Lincoln Gordon, Mona tutor, spent a great deal of time and effort explaining the assignment to the students and answering their queries. Dr Anderson attended tutorials to this end, and Mr Gordon also made himself available to students outside tutorial times. Explanation of the assignment was perhaps done in greater depth at St Augustine, as the class was structured so that that the course comprised a three-hour class with no tutorial. Students' concerns and the Dr Kerrigan's solutions could therefore be discussed in class for the benefit of all present. Some indicators of success were:

1.  Self-motivated learning about anthropology: in St Augustine in particular, students requested extra readings on "doing" anthropology, or 

     discussed additional information on anthropology they had found with the lecturer.

2.  Student interest in taking more anthropology courses: Most students at Mona said they were going to take more anthropology courses, and some said they would do the Anthropology Major.

The course at Mona was team-taught: Drs Herbert Gayle, Steve Weaver and Anderson shared leaching. However, Dr Anderson was the de facto coordinator of the course and communicated with St Augustine campus.

Some students at St Augustine asked Dr Kerrigan about the feasibility of transferring to Mona to complete the Major in Anthropology.

3.   Presentations that demonstrated (explicitly and implicitly) an understanding of key anthropological tropes: cultural relativism, politics of representation, cultural analysis, etc. For example, some students recognised the preconceptions they had had before the assignment about the "other" and realised the similarities as well as differences in the region.

Structures, methods and relationships utilised in the collaboration:

The key to success was constant communication between tutor and lecturer at Mona, and between lecturers across the campuses. In both cases the most common means of communication was by email; it was not uncommon for Drs Anderson and Kerrigan to email each other four or five times a day, especially in the initial stages. Email addresses from each campus had to be sent to the other, answers to logistical and substantive questions about the assignment had to be agreed upon, and often in very short time, as the St Augustine class only met once a week.

Also very important to the success of the assignment was the relationship that Mr Gordon developed with the students. He proved extremely responsive to their concerns and the students relied on him quite heavily for troubleshooting. When presented with a problem that was beyond his remit to resolve, he emailed or called Dr Anderson for advice. This relationship proved extremely useful (for students and Dr Anderson) for the subsequent assignment as well. Mr Gordon also provided feedback on how the students were coping with the coursework in general.

Lessons learned:

Cross-campus collaboration is both possible and rewarding. Some lessons learned from our experience are:

  1. Organising the collaboration can be time-consuming, particularly at the start: however, the benefits outweigh the costs. Relationships with others that the students would probably never have met otherwise have been established and may persist beyond the life of the course.
  2. Rapid, frequent communication is essential: if necessary, there should be a commitment made at the start to be rapid responders to communications from the other party.
  3. Emailing was the most convenient means of communication: the lecturers had considered communicating by phone, but it proved too difficult to arrive at mutually convenient times.
  4. Parties should agree on "terms of reference" before the collaboration begins: this does not have to be formal, but everyone should pledge their commitment to the partnership so that all sides are equally confident that all tasks will be performed as agreed and concerns about or demonstrations of lack of investment will be mitigated.
  5. Collaboration does not have to cost any (extra) money: As stated above, communication was by email. Using the telephone would have been free as well, with the recent changes in telephone services between campuses.
  6. Lecturers should actively seek out like-minded staff on other campuses: Dr Anderson was unaware of Dr Kerrigan's work to establish an Anthropology Minor and introductory anthropology course until he contacted her. From there, ideas about collaborations began to flow. It is important to know the research interests and disciplines of one's peers across the UWI in order to create opportunities for collaboration.

Prepared by Moji Anderson and Dylan Kerrigan

January 11, 2012

 

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