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ISSUE 121 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 2/29/2008

Lecture examines lifestyle choices

By Monica Southworth
Staff Writer

Friday, February 29, 2008

On a regular basis, the Center for Innovation in the Liberal Arts brings professors together from Old Main Hall to Dittman Center to discuss pedagogical styles and to better teach us as students. As part of the CILA's Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Series, professor of history and American studies Jim Farrell held a discussion last Wednesday about teaching, measuring outcomes, and teaching sustainability across the curriculum.

Farrell is one of the 2007-08 CILA Associates along with Karil Kucera, professor of art, art history and Asian studies, and Tony Lott, professor of political science.

Farrell's discussion focused on his Campus Ecology class and the way that he approaches the subject. This year is the fifth time Farrell has offered Campus Ecology in his thirty years as a Professor at St. Olaf.

The class is an American/environmental studies class, and Farrell focuses the curriculum on "looking at the way we live at St. Olaf," he said. This leads to a broader discussion about "how St. Olaf works as an organic machine," Farrell stated, and about the experience of non-human subjects on campus and their view of life on the Hill. In his outline for the course, Farrell stated his desire to explore "what we value (personally and culturally) and why."

"Basically they think they live in a small space without a lot of stuff," Farrell said about St. Olaf students. "But realistically, they live in small places with a lot of stuff." Farrell said that the way that he opens the semester is with a survey asking students about what they know about a list of items that number more than 200. One question asks if students understand David Orr when he says that "all education is environmental education."

At the end of the semester, Farrell concludes the class by asking students the 10 most important things they had learned over the course of the semester.

According to Farrell, answers vary from "Our school system needs a major overhaul" to "Bon Appetit isn't so bad after all."

From the beginning to the end of the course, Farrell takes a close look at the curriculum, assignments and how he runs the classes as a part of the CILA.

The "Knowledge Surveys" Farrell uses to assess these things were originally presented as a pedagogical tool at another meeting by a Macalester professor.

From the Knowledge Surveys, Farrell takes the information and reintegrates the topics into discussion throughout the semester. One of the major changes Farrell has made was bringing more direction to topics during in-class lectures and discussions.

With the greater focus, Farrell said he feels that students are able to take more out of the class.

Farrell is able to share the experimental teaching he has done through discussions put on by CILA. The purpose of the CILA is to bring together a variety of faculty to create discussion for improved teaching styles.

CILA hosts a talk every couple of weeks that attracts professors from the departments scattered around campus to create discussion and to improve the quality of education received by St. Olaf students.

The CILA is partly supported by a grant from the Bush Foundation.

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