Colleen Berry graciously agreed to offer her thoughts on running a summer study tour to China for our Teaching Thursday blog Colleen is an experienced study tour leader and tour guide, and her trip to China in collaboration with Victoria Beard is one of the best regarded summer programs on campus.
She recommends that directed journals as a key aspect of keeping students engaged in the learning process throughout their time in China. We experimented with less structured journaling exercises through our Graduate Student Perspectives and Undergraduate Perspectives blog with the hope that making the students recount their experiences in public (and with some direction, see: A Primer in Archaeological Blogging) was likely to keep them honest. I particularly admire the probing questions with which Colleen prompts the students. She is not timid in encouraging the students to articulate their experiences in China on a personal level. For example: "How has this trip changed your life? Give some specific ways that your experiences on this trip will make your life and your actions different when you return home."
I also like the idea that the journal explicitly served not simply as a means for the student to engage their experiences, but also a method to evaluate the success of the class. In this way, Colleen showed that her goals with the class were not just to familiarize students with Chinese culture (broadly construed), but to convert this familiarity into something that they can take home and make relevant in their everyday lives. That is a potent goal and posses a real challenge to any assessment regiment as it not only asks the student to reflect their own experiences in China, but to anticipate how their time there will change their engagement with American culture. In this regard, her assessment program asks students to anticipate certain changes and this likely goes a long way to making changes in student behavior real. It would be interesting to follow up with this assessment technique in a years time to see whether the student expectations prompted by Colleen's questions came to pass.
Another thing that struck me about Colleen's directed journal is that it did not emphasize the development of any particular skills, expertise, or knowledge nor did it engage a particular theoretic perspective (at least overtly) -- except perhaps the question about feeling like a minority. In this way, her program (at least as represented in the directed journal) represents a departure from the current emphasis on teaching specific, well-defined skills (e.g. the ability to do "x") and encouraging students to understand their experiences through a generalized theoretical vocabulary often keyed to potent terms like literacy, diversity, et c. On the one hand, clearly linking assessment goals to the assignments themselves can make evaluation easier as the values that you assess are linked the the student's ability to understand key terms and concepts. On the other hand, these kind of limited outcome assessment practices (e.g. what did you learn about diversity?) probably work poorly for the immersive experiences associated with study tours in general. No matter how similar the backgrounds and the preparation, students will engage a foreign culture on their own, very specific terms.
As a final note, I wonder why Colleen presented almost nothing in her directed journaling that is specific to China; that is to say the word China could be replaced with the word Cyprus and the journal prompts would be equally valid. Is this good because she approaches her study tour with the hope that students learn fundamental lessons that would resonate with any transcultural experience? Or is this a limitation because it homogenizes the world outside the U.S. as "other than here" or "diversity"?
It's great that Colleen agreed to engage some of the issues (and in such a practical direct way!) that I tried to bring up in my various posts on "Teaching in the Sun" (here, here, here) and I look forward to a continued dialogue.