Friday, November 03, 2006

Against Discussion Classes, and Down with Culture Class Too!

Wednesday morning, I slept in a bit and then went to my History and Legend class. I think this class has been going very well, but the professor started of by saying he's not at all satisfied and wants to change everything completely. "Discussion seminars" or taolun ke are all the rage here as far as pedagogy goes, but no one has quite figured out how they work. I could tell them a lot, but of course no one has asked me.

The first problem is that there are no seminar-type rooms--no rooms with tables, or even chairs that can be arranged in a circle. They're all big lecture-hall style classrooms with bolted-down benches and a podium at the front. Professors' ideas of discussion seminars seem to be that each student in the class should make a presentation. In effect, this seems to mean that it's still a lecture class, but lecturing duties rotate among one's classmates. As someone who's been a student for over twenty years, I have to say that I don't think this is likely to be pedagogically very useful. And I don't say that entirely for selfish reasons. The kids here are so over-booked that they can barely pay respectful attention to a professor, let alone a fellow kid just bumbling through. Sleeping and doing other work on laptops is par for the courses!

As far as actual discussion goes, most people are not going to dare to speak up. The problem is that in an atmosphere of dead silence, any question or objection is a big deal. Too big a deal. Words matter here; they're not just so much wind. Even the emptiest of speculations have to have reams of evidence (even if shakily cobbled together) to support them. So no one is going to feel comfortable just "throwing something out there," no matter how appealing the idea of a discussion seminar may be to overbooked professors who would prefer not to have to prepare lectures every week. In short, I think the whole taolun ke fad is a big fat mistake. Even in the U.S. it's often done very inefficiently. Hint: running a proper discussion class should not be less work for the professor than giving a lecture, but lots of professors tend to coast...not naming any names...

Meanwhile, the Hist and Legend professor was also having people sign up for paper topics as well as presentation topics. I of course being an auditor didn't sign up for either, but one of the paper topics really caught my eye. I like the H&L prof a lot, despite his underrating of his own teaching. I like his bright black bird-like eyes, and his energy. Also, on this particular morning, he had done a strange contorted dance and succeeded in dislodging from the collar of his clean striped white button-shirt an enormous black spider, which he swiftly dispatched with his foot and went back to what he was saying, hardly missing a beat. Full points for composure!! Anyway, while people were signing up, I bravely went up to him and said that I was really interested in this topic and if I followed his recommended research guidelines, would he be willing to take a look at what I'd found, even though I was just an auditor? He said that certainly he would, and his manner was, if not actually warm, at least not overtly cool. So I think there is another opportunity to make a connection, if I can find time to do that research.

I had a quick and excellent lunch of bebim bap at the Farm Garden cafeteria. They had it in a black stone bowl, which, when you ordered it, they tossed onto an impressively large gas flame so the bowl and its contents got all hot and sizzling. Delicious.

Then I sat in the library dutifully reworking a state of the field paper I had written a year and a half ago, with an eye toward translating it into Chinese. That's going to be a big job.

In mid-afternoon, I headed off to a class one of my classmates had recommended I check out. It was a class on "Chinese culture" taught by a soft-spoken Taiwanese gentleman, who reportedly was a really good lecturer. I actually think he was a pretty good lecturer, but the content was so uninteresting to me that the class was pure torture. He started off with the ways in which post-modernism and Daoism are alike, and went from there into a lot of comparative religious stuff. I just can't get excited about comparative religion, even when an informed view of pre-modern Chinese religions is one of the points of comparison. It just doesn't float my boat! I alternately slept, attempted to listen, and made various types of lists in my notebook. "To do list." "To ask my Chinese teacher list." "SOF article revisions list." "Books to look for list."

I got a mystery call toward the end of class. My phone was on vibrate but outside my bag so I noticed it at once. There is no voicemail here, so if it's a mystery call the only way to find out who it was is to call back. I did that as soon as class was out and was informed that my petition to switch departments had been successful. (It was no small job!) I could go to the foreign students' work unit and pick up the paperwork whenever convenient. I went right away!

Then I had some dinner, bought some books, and tried this new kind of candied fruit, which was absolutely delicious. I couldn't understand the answer to my query as to what sort of fruit it was, but my best guess is sweet yellow tomatilloes. Anyway, it was the best candied fruit yet!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who knows where to download XRumer 5.0 Palladium?
Help, please. All recommend this program to effectively advertise on the Internet, this is the best program!