I spent three hours today doing job interviews via video conferencing. In one of those meetings, as I was describing this course, I was asked what I would do differently next time to make it even better. My initial thoughts were to reduce the number of readings and try and help facilitate clearer connections between the in-class projects and the final projects. I would be quite surprised if any of you disagreed with me about these things! But even given those caveats, I still think (and I told the people asking me this question) that this pedagogical experiment was largely a success.
One thing I don’t think that the students in this course really knew much of was how this class has evolved over time, or what pieces from Lee’s tenure I chose to keep. There was a sense that we were in uncharted waters all year. While that was true, it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t background information grounding my decisions. I was the ITF for this course beginning in 2009-10. The first step was to demonstrate that a technological component to this course had any relevance at all, which is what we did in the first year. From there, each year following, we built up the tech capacities of this course, until this year’s all-digital spring semester. So from a broader perspective of some years’ involvement, this course already had a history. It’s just that it was an institutional history, not an individual one. But believe me, Macaulay wasn’t about to let this experiment happen out of the blue. There were four years of precedent, as well as a growing community interest in re-thinking what a thesis is, what a “Macaulay capstone” should look like.
In that sense, you were all part of the first of those experiments. In the coming years, I know Dean Ugoretz and Jenny and a bunch of other people will be involved in further experiments, and I think that Macaulay will eventually become a very forward-thinking institution, when it comes to how the senior capstone experience is managed. Now, I know being first can be really tough. There’s no clear path to follow sometimes, and that’s frustrating for everyone. For students, who are used to meeting their professor’s expectations, I think those expectations can sometimes seem murky (or even nonexistent) in such situations. That can cause anxiety (please raise your hand if you did NOT have anxiety about some aspect of this course), fear, etcetera. But I also think that every project ended up reflecting what I think of as true learning–that each project taught you more about the process of discovery itself.
It may seem difficult to believe this, but even if this course had been run as a very traditional, completely tech-free experience (which isn’t even truly possible, given the way we do research now), there would still have been moments of deep fear and doubt, of having to dig deep within yourself to find stamina and clarity, of navigating a journey without a map. Yes, there would have been more of a tradition to guide you and surround you than there was in this instance. That’s true. But you would still have walked a solitary path, and it wouldn’t have been terribly smooth.
I have mixed feelings about where the projects we created ended up. I like that they are all different, that each of you took your own interests and came up with something unique to your own process. I kind of like the fact that they feel a little raw, a little unfinished. But it also makes me feel desperately uncomfortable–part of my professor self still wants there to be a big sign that says “THE END” at the end. So I’m negotiating that complexity, and I’m learning myself–how to let go and let our end results really reflect that fact that learning is a habit, more than anything else. I think you’ve all witnessed what happens when I hold on tightly, and I swear, I thought I had weaned myself off of most of that before the semester began (obviously not–now just try to imagine how uptight I was when I began teaching, ten years ago!). But every new teaching experience helps me loosen the reins a little more–and this was definitely no exception. When you all asserted authority over your projects, I was always a bit taken aback–and then really proud. Because at the end of the day, isn’t that the fucking point of education to begin with? If we’re not giving you the tools to formulate your intellectual independence, then I don’t know that we’re doing our jobs as teachers.
The other thing I want to point out to you, however, is this: in the absence of many of the traditional rules and expectations of classroom-oriented learning, you didn’t just survive–you thrived. Was it easy? Probably not. But you demonstrated just how capable you were as people, not just as students. And you’re ready to go do whatever the hell you want. So go on! Keep going!
Jenny and Steve and your advisors and I are lifelong contacts for you–you can be in touch with us as much or as little as you like. We’ll support you as best we are able to do. If you would like a formal written evaluation of your final project, I can put one together for you on letterhead, and e-mail that to you–let me know if it would be helpful to have that feedback, and I will send it off right away. Otherwise, enjoy graduation! Congratulations.
Today, at our final class meeting, I’m going to ask each of you to share your final digital thesis projects. Please be prepared to answer the following: how is this project not only a reflection of your written thesis, but a further development of your argument or ideas?
If you want to continue to make edits to your project, that’s fine–as long as all edits are complete by Macaulay graduation day, June 6. At that point your thesis project site must be available to the general public.
Sometime prior to graduation, please also do one more thing: write a final blog post over here. A letter to everyone in the class: me, Steve!, Jenny, your classmates, your advisor, your fellow NCUR attendees, Macaulay in general, whoever you want. Share your thoughts on the semester, whatever they may be. I would welcome suggestions for how to improve, always, but I would also like to hear what worked well for you, as well as anything else you would like to share.
I will do the same (probably next week sometime), and I’ll invite Jenny to do so as well. Let’s wrap up the blog conversation with some reflection on the wonderful small community we’ve built here, and on the lessons we’ll take with us as we all walk new paths.
May 13th is your digital thesis project work day. Come with a list of things to accomplish. Work anywhere in the Macaulay building (the atrium or the back balcony if we can, even!), alone or in a group.
If you need help from Lindsey or Jenny that day, please e-mail to set that up in advance; let us know what you’ll need help with and we’ll triage–what needs to happen first, second, third, etc.
At 5 pm that day, we’ll gather together in the 3rd floor classroom to reflect on and share the day’s accomplishments, make plans for the Macaulay Research Event, and strategize for how best to move forward with each project.
Hey gang! We collected some great presenting tips and tricks from our fellow colleagues at NCUR last month. Some of them even harken back to their Seminar 4 presentations. If you have any other helpful advice, feel free to chime in in the comments!
Emily Paolillo, Brooklyn College: “For Seminar 4, my class was required to make video public service announcements. My group did ours on safer sex. Making a video was so interactive and fun that everyone in my class was completely immersed in their projects. Some did theirs on smoking and the obesity epidemic. I think it’s a pretty good sign that I can still remember their projects two years later. We also had to incorporate useful PSA tactics like using comedy or scary facts (mostly everyone used comedy), which made it very entertaining. When we presented at the Macaulay building, our videos had everyone hooked. Seminar 4 should be a FUN learning experience that incorporates using research skills to produce something that we will remember in the years to come.
Also, NCUR was a great experience! It was awesome to meet so many different undergraduate students from around the country and see how diverse everyone’s fields of study are.”
Jenna Peet, Brooklyn College: “One thing that really helped my presentation for NCUR was rehearsing my presentation with Macaulay students who normally would not see my work. When I prepared my thesis at BC, I was practicing with mostly education and physics majors, and so I wasn’t getting a sense of what would be clear or confusing to the average listener. Practice with Macaulay students made me reevaluate what my presentation needed to focus on, and the feedback they gave also made me think more seriously about what my research represented as a whole. The questions they asked in practice (and actual) presentations were more thoughtful and insightful than what I was used to, and made my presentation that much better.”
Jamie Mallette, City College: “My suggestion for seminar 4 students is to not take the conference too seriously. Yes it is at the Macaulay building and it is academic but if they just relax and feel confident in what they are presenting they will do great! I think the conference experience would be greatly enhanced if people stayed for one another’s presentations and listening rather than ducking out after their own or their friends. Seminar 4 students, and all other Macaulay classes, should take the time to get to know students from other campuses and begin to explore outside their comfort zone. My personal presenting style is to make note cards with a few bullet points. I don’t write out my whole speech because it actually makes me more nervous and I am not as engaging or as varied when I plan too much. I usually just get up there and talk informally (but still appropriately!).My general experience at NCUR was positive. I had a lot of fun, and met interesting people. I would recommend students go to conferences, even just local ones, even if they are not presenting just to get a feel for the style, and networking.”
Vartan Pahalyants, Hunter College: “NCUR was a great opportunity to see research from different perspectives. When you attend conferences in your field, you do not get to see the amazing variety of research that goes on in other spheres. I was particularly impressed with the presentations of my classmates in the fields of Civil Engineering, English and Physics was. Overall, it was an enriching experience and I am really glad I was given the opportunity to attend this year’s conference.”
Our revised plan for May 6th is as follows:
- Meet up at 21st & 10th at 3 PM for a visit to EYEBEAM, where we will have a look at “The New Romantics”
- Head on up to the High Line, discuss the exhibit, and have a feedback session on everyone’s thesis projects–everyone brings something to “show and tell”
- Make a final decision on the really darn cool dance performance for which we have tickets
Looking forward! In the meantime, please please please remember that Jenny and I are always available via e-mail. Do not hesitate to be in touch.
- Andrew Stanton on the clues to a great story
- Digital storytelling in plain English
- Josh Tyrangiel on storytelling across platforms
- The seven elements of digital storytelling
- NCUR travelogue
- Presentation Skills Project
The last day or so of our Kentucky sojourn has been “full of passionate intensity” (though not “the worst,” so my apologies to Yeats for mangling “The Second Coming”). Unfortunately, my photo of the twelve-person semi-drunken rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” which was performed during last night’s van ride from dinner to the hotel did not turn out, so I’ll leave the details to your imagination.
At the end of this trip, however, one of the things that has really struck me is what good colleagues our Macaulay students have been. They’ve actively listened and responded not only to one another, but to all of the other participants in their sessions, in ways that have proven very interesting to observe.
All of our students created great supporting materials, for example, using PowerPoint, Prezi, or their posters to convey research information in an engaging manner. But this wasn’t always the case in their panels–a number of other presenters committed the “cardinal sin” of reading a paper aloud for fifteen minutes. And we all saw how much harder it was to follow an argument or realize a topic’s intellectual potential when presenting that way, for sure, but even in that context, I thought our team asked smart questions and engaged in a respectful way with the content shared by such presenters.
I think we are all (Drew and I especially) ready to get back to New York, as this has in many ways been a whirlwind trip for us. We’re a tired bunch. But it has been an unreservedly successful experience for all of our students, and we’ve done Macaulay proud in our time in Kentucky.
We spent the bulk of our day today at the University of Kentucky. Gorgeous campus, and they appear to be very happy to host all of the students coming in for this great event. The energy in the air was interesting to observe; mostly, I was reminded that ten years makes a difference. Yowza. There was a hyper edge to the morning, especially, that seemed to emanate from everyone under the age of twenty-five!
The bulk of the afternoon was spent going from presentation to presentation–Vartan’s, Nazana’s, Laura’s, then Emily’s. The Macaulay cohort presenting at this conference is fantastic. From Emily’s research into the role of implicit and explicit memory in the acquisition of typing skills, to Vartan’s look at the role of leptin in mitigating some of the effects of meth, to Nazana’s study of the relative risk of different types of NYC bicycle lanes, to Laura’s project for this class, on Hitchcock and Poe–it really was a stellar day.
One thing I saw in all the presentations I witnessed is how invested our students are not just in their own particular research projects, but in the process of research, generally speaking. I think that our students are invested not only in becoming content creators (something we often discuss as a team of ITFs), but in becoming creators of quality content. All that angst about the millennial generation seems misplaced, when you attend an event like this. That hyper energy is going to be put to good use. It’s cause for optimism.
I also got to try the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale that some members of our crew ordered and raved about last night–that was well worth it. 🙂