Learning to Think—and Act—Globally

OWU’s Course Connections networks weave together courses from many disciplines

Students and professors from English literature and botany/microbiology classes traveled to Athens, Ohio as part of the American Landscape Connected Course network. (Photo by Lynette Carpenter)

Complementing the Theory-to-Practice and Travel-Learning components of The OWU Connection, Ohio Wesleyan’s  curricular initiative, are the Course Connections networks that launched at the start of fall semester. Simply put, these networks of courses—six starting this year—are designed to enhance students’ understanding by presenting single subjects from a variety of viewpoints, explains OWU’s Dean of Academic Affairs, Chuck Stinemetz: “They [Course Connections] are topical, and are not restricted by discipline.” Exciting stories about these experiences are beginning to emerge.

For example, 22 students along with botany/microbiology professor David Johnson, and English professor Lynette Carpenter—all belonging to the American Landscape Course Connections network—recently traveled  to Athens, Ohio. Zakes Mda, author of Cion, the course’s common reading, places his novel’s characters in this southeastern Ohio city.

“We saw how the landscape can influence history as told in a novel,” says Carpenter. Observing plants indigenous to the area such as sycamore trees, paw paws, and ghost orchids, Johnson’s botany students added their knowledge of those plants to group discussions. The bridge featured in the photo above connects the cemetery, where Mda’s novel opens, to a nature walk.

“Our Course Connections networks are providing even greater integration of the academic experience by weaving together courses from multiple disciplines across the four academic divisions of the University, around themes reflecting important global challenges,” says OWU President Rock Jones. As students learn across disciplines, they are making important connections, often while encountering perspectives unlike their own.

“We celebrate diversity of ethnicities, cultures, and thought at OWU, as we continually learn from one another. Ohio Wesleyan’s Connected Courses networks are encouraging students not only to pursue their interests and passions, but also to think globally and try to make the world a better place for everyone.”

Students are sensing the added value of the Connected Courses networks.

“When you take a topic and tackle it from many angles, that is a much more complete education,” says Abby Dockter ’12, an English and sociology-anthropology double major who attended the field trip in Athens. “It was obvious that the two groups were focused on very different aspects of the landscape and we had to stop and look at all of the plants!” As a senior, Dockter won’t be able to complete a course connection, but has liked the concept from the very beginning. At the start of fall semester, members of the American Landscape network also walked around Delaware and the bike path along the Olentangy River to observe those areas.

“Originally, I joined this course because I loved and had read most of the authors we were discussing: Thoreau, Emerson, Fitzgerald, and Kerouac,”says Hank Owings ’14, an English and religion double major. “But I also really like the concept of focusing on American landscapes, because it’s something I’m interested in as a person who enjoys hiking, fishing, and the like. This course connection is turning out to be great.”

The collection of Course Connections includes one or more courses from 21 academic departments, all fully listed on the The OWU Connection website. The topics are: American Landscape; Crime, Responsibility, and Punishment; Poverty, Equity, and Social Justice; Food: How Production and Consumption Shape Our Bodies, Our Cultures, and Our Environment; Four Corners; and Modern Life and its Discontents. Ideas for these six Course Connections networks came from faculty working groups.

“For years, we’ve been saying that it would be nice if students had more intellectual discussions outside of class, and we are doing that now,” says Barbara Andereck, physics and astronomy professor and associate dean of academic affairs and a leader of the Four Corners network. She and her faculty group read Yellow Dirt, a novel about the Navajo Indians’ bouts with cancer, and scoped out the Southwest during the summer in preparation for a spring trip with students.

In the Connected Courses network, Poverty, Equity, and Social Justice, economics professor Bob Gitter shares that 13 students representing 10 different academic disciplines already are part of that group. Each person brings something special to the course.

“Music professor Nancy Gamso tells us about differences between black and white jazz; fine arts professor Kristina Bogdanov mentions the Potters for Peace, an interdisciplinary effort involving students and professors from fine arts and science who create filters for drinking water in impoverished countries; and I’ve done research looking at poverty and its causes,”says Gitter. After a lecture about Appalachia by sociology-anthropology professor John Durst, students said they never realized that parts of Appalachia touched their home states.

“Professor Durst taught us the basics, such as what Appalachia is and about the stereotypes—and which have merit—as well as about the actual Appalachian locales,” says Amy Braun ’12, a politics and government and sociology-anthropology double major and history minor. “It was very informative, learning about the poverty and economics of these areas.” All of the Course Connections networks professors agree on the wide range of ways in which the courses are playing out. For instance, philosophy professor Erin Flynn from the Modern Life and its Discontents network, shares the excitement of a two hour discussion with students and faculty members immediately following the campus theatre production of “ Hedda Gabler.” He notes how much students seem to like interacting with professors outside of class, as well as watching their professors interact with each other.

“I’ll always remember sitting in that room in the Crider Lounge and talking with wonderful professors and students,” says Anne Flowers ’12, a theatre and dance and biology double major. “We discussed the play from different perspectives and it was so interesting to see how people from other academic disciplines view things. It’s nice to take an extra step to get as much out of my education as possible.”

Psychology professor Vicki DiLillo and botany-microbiology professor Laurie Anderson are trying to develop infrastructures so their students can set up blog assignments for their Food: How Production and Consumption Shape Our Bodies, Our Cultures, and Our Environment network. Johnson, also part of that group, is discussing ecosystems and how energy is processed through animals as they eat.

“The Course Connections networks are practical ways to satisfy distribution requirements,” says Johnson. Besides that practicality, there is, as all professors agree, an intentionality in course selection that students are developing.

“Students are more apt to choose courses when they see connections,” says Andereck. “Thinking across disciplines and making connections are things they have to do all through their lives.”

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