Assistant Professor of Anthropology Jamie Shenton is teaching three courses remotely this semester—Introduction to Social Justice, Qualitative Field Methods and Public Anthropology—and has incorporated innovative ways to teach each one.
“First, I have had to think about how to still build community within the class while not being able to meet face-to-face as a group,” she said.
Shenton has started a GroupMe chat for each of her classes that can be used for class-related questions, but it has also turned into a space for sharing news stories, pet pictures, accomplishments and words of encouragement.
“GroupMe has been a really uplifting space,” she added.
Second, Shenton believes that, now more than ever, feedback is crucial for her classes.
“I have allocated more time for students to complete capstone projects, but with submission steps along the way,” she explained. “This way I can provide them with lots of feedback, both written and verbal. Verbal feedback comes in the form of one-on-one phone conversations or recordings in PowerPoint that I send to them individually. I think it’s more personal for them to hear me talk through feedback than it is to receive only typed-up comments.”
Shenton believes an innovative technique at Centre College would be anything that an instructor tries out in the classroom that can more effectively bring students together in the learning process.
“With that definition in mind, I suppose one of my favorite innovative techniques has been remotely interviewing several elderly members of our community,” she said.
Qualitative Field Methods is a community-based learning class, where students work with two senior care centers in town for in-person conversations and observations. The goal of this class is to learn about aging from seniors, while developing skills as qualitative researchers.
“Needless to say, in mid-March, right before we broke for spring break, my class decided it was no longer safe to visit seniors in person,” Shenton explained. “It was devastating, but it was also the right thing to do. Discontinuing our visits and switching to online learning meant that we had to figure out how to do field research with no ‘field.’ Thanks to our lovely community partners, my class was able to conduct interviews remotely with seniors using Zoom, Skype and FaceTime. This required a huge effort on the part of the staff of this assisted living community to provide residents with a laptop or to connect students over the phone. And, of course, this required a willing group of kind seniors who shared their perspectives with students no matter the technological challenges. I am so grateful to them.”
For those in Introduction to Social Justice, Shenton said the class has turned an eye toward the Coronavirus. Throughout the course, students have talked about its effects as they are influenced by questions of age, disability, gender, race, class, immigration status and sexuality, among other things.
“In general, the class has focused on the ways in which the Coronavirus has laid bare long-existing inequalities in the U.S.; this is something we cannot forget once we return to ‘normal,’” she said.
In Public Anthropology, students are working toward a final project of a public-facing anthropology piece. For this project, seniors are producing a short piece of writing designed to be engaging and intelligible to a non-anthropologist audience. Shenton said many of them have reframed their original issues in terms of the Coronavirus, and all of the students are producing high quality creative, but scholarly, essays that are short, informative and magazine-worthy.
Shenton thinks it needs to be stressed that Centre students are the real superstars in this situation.
“They are the ones who are making this work in extremely difficult learning situations,” she said. “Students in Introduction to Social Justice are writing beautiful, highly analytical Moodle forum posts. Students in Qualitative Field Methods are analyzing data from afar, conducting remote interviews and turning their analyses into insightful ethnographic papers. And seniors in Public Anthropology continue to write the most engaging essays—public-facing essays I have had the good fortune to read. I am very lucky to learn from them.”
Shenton added that Centre students are also capable, brave and resilient.
“This is something I know regardless of the circumstances we are in,” she concluded. “And, clearly, I am certain that they will come away with a knowledge of the topics and approaches we are considering as a class. But, in addition, I hope they come away with a new appreciation for just how remarkable they are, how ready they are to face unprecedented challenges, and how important they are to the people in their lives who love them.”
by Kerry Steinhofer
April 27, 2020