Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A liberal conversation the liberal arts

We had some great conversations in my Ethnomathematics course today, a day we devoted to trying to obtain a better and broader view of the university we all work at. After doing a peer review of each others' brochures (advertising campus offices and organizations of important to new arrivals to campus), I asked the students what it was that drew them to UNC Asheville in the first place.

The list they came up with was a comprehensive one. According to them, the draw of the school has to do with the fact that UNCA

  • is cheap,
  • is in the mountains,
  • is in North Carolina,
  • is in Asheville,
  • is close to family,
  • offers a "real" [I think he meant "more comprehensive"] education, as opposed to a conservatory,
  • has a small campus,
  • has a green campus,
  • has promising programs of interest [teaching licensure and Chemistry were mentioned specifically],
  • isn't pricey,
  • has nice faculty,
  • has an accepting community,
  • is part of an active larger community,
  • is situated in a "hippie town,"
  • has no football team,
  • offers diversity,
  • offers a large number of extra-curricular activities,
  • offers small classes,
  • allows students flexibility in their studies, and
  • offers a broad variety of courses one wouldn't find elsewhere.
I pressed the students a bit on this last point: what courses do you think distinguish UNCA from other institutions?

"This one," one student offered. "This doesn't seem like the kind of class you'd be able to take just anywhere." Students also cited a number of other courses, many of which have an interdisciplinary flavor to them: a jazz course on the popularity of The Beatles, physics courses on music and sound, Asian studies courses, and teaching licensure courses relating to every discipline across campus.

Toward the end of our conversation, we began to drift toward the topic on which I asked the students to write a brief reflection for next week: what is it about UNCA that makes it a liberal arts institution? Judging from their responses to this question, I think the students have a good idea already, and I'm looking forward to further discussion:

"I went to UT [University of Tennessee] before this, and there all of the teaching was straight out of the textbook. You had to read the text and then you'd get lectured to about it. Here there's so much more variety in the way things are taught. And the classes all fit together and build on one another. They affect one another."

"There are connections between all of the different components of our education."

"We have a chance to learn in small classes like this one, instead of large lectures with several hundred people."

"The range of courses we can take is huge. And they sometimes consider the same ideas from different points of view."

Unwittingly the students are hitting some of the reasons I came to UNCA and enjoy my career here so much: I have the chance to actually get to know my students and their hopes and dreams. I have the chance to teach rich courses with a similarly rich assortment of pedagogical techniques. Moreover, I do this all with strong students who would never be able to afford the cognate experience at a private school like Bucknell, Bard, or Davidson. It's a good life.

I'm looking forward to reading the students' reflections...and to their presentations on the campus offices to which they've been assigned. More to come!


Lauren Gunter said...

Would you mind sharing some of the responses from your students when you get them back?

DocTurtle said...

Lauren, I'd be delighted to do so, provided the authors give me permission!