CLAS Acts January 2013

January 2013 Vol. 6, issue 6

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a student-centered and diverse learning community that engages in critical inquiry extending knowledge to enrich and enliven individual and public life.

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Faculty E-newsletter


The Center for Scholarly and Creative Excellence has recognized several CLAS faculty. The presentation of these awards will occur at the Faculty Awards Convocation on February 7, 2013.

Distinguished Early-Career Scholar Award Dawn Clifford Hart (Cell and Molecular Biology) Amy Russell (Biology)

Distinguished Undergraduate Mentoring Award David Leonard (Chemistry) Michael Lombardo (Biology)

Distinguished Graduate Mentoring Award Carl Ruetz (Annis Water Resources Institute)        



Frederick J. Antczak, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

We will open the book.

Its pages are blank.

We are going to put words on them ourselves.

The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.

~ Edith Lovejoy Pierce  

Here's hoping you have all found a new Mayan calendar to suit your decor and are ready to begin again the academic cycle. 

Living as we do in a time that is so often described as one of disruptive change, the New Year presents a good opportunity to acquaint ourselves with the many contending new directions the academy is taking.  For some of us, reading The Chronicle of Higher Education and various academic online news feeds means a daily barrage of articles on the threat or opportunity of MOOCs, the shift in American higher ed away from tenured positions, flipped and hybrid pedagogies that make use of various online technologies, challenges associated with changing student demographics, new (and renewed) methods of increasing student engagement, and so on.  To some it is a brave new world, to some it looks like a retread of methods that have been tried before, and I suspect to most of us it looks a bit like an ever widening buffet with some tempting strategies with obvious applications to outcomes we want and some techniques altogether unsuited to our personal style or course content. 

I'm sure you join me in feeling that some sort of a balance must be struck.  To help you more painlessly know what is out there, this newsletter will continue to profile how some of these pedagogies are working out in the classrooms of your own colleagues in CLAS in the relevant context of our students and resources. Sometimes our students are our resources.  For instance, our CLAS Student Advisory Committee provides one of my most productive hours each month.  The agenda is always topical, and this forthright group is great at identifying what works (and what could work if better advertised) and what misses the point.  For instance, our students want us to appreciate that first-year studnets are often a bit out of the communication loop.  They explained that many frosh rarely go into the Kirkhof Center so are better reached through promotions in their living centers or in their classes.  Events such as major fairs were thought to be under-promoted and to benefit from manning by both student and faculty departmental representatives.  The students also identify as vital to their sense of belonging not just traditional student activities such as clubs, but also finding a real home in their departments.  They value get-togethers at which they can meet all of their department's faculty, places near the departmental office to congregate, free tea, and departmental traditions. So if you'd like to help us implement the Student Advisory Committee's recommendations, please let your students know that on January 17, the Career Center is hosting a Liberal Arts Alumni Career Panel at 4 - 5:30 p.m. in 2215-2216 Kirkhof Center, and  January 29 an event designed to help them with decisions about their major will be held. 

Something all of you need to know is happening on Monday, January 21.  It was decided and announced last summer that this year on MLK Day, offices will remain open but classes will not be held so that students can attend the special events planned.  Please make sure that the word gets around about this change.

Even as grades were being finalized last month, our office was receiving some additional great news about the faculty that you may have missed in the end-of-term flurry.  Mathematics' Matthew Boelkins has been selected to receive the 2013 Distinguished Teaching Award from the Michigan Section of the Mathematical Association of America.  Music's Arthur Campbell and Helen Marlais were nominated this fall for the 2013 International Classical Music Awards , one of the most prestigious distinctions available to classical musicians today.  It was just announced that the GVSU Distinguished Contribution to a Discipline Award will go to Helen Marlais at the ceremony on February 7. Recently, Arthur opened a box from Germany containing advance copies of the CDs of a new recording with a string trio of GVSU faculty -these will be more publically available in February. Deanna Morse, School of Communications, has been announced as the winner of a 2013 Pixie Award for her animated film—a very nice follow up to her Pixie Award last year.  Also recently announced was that the GVSU Outstanding Community Service Award will be given to Zulema Moret of MLL and the Outstanding Academic Advising & Student Service will recognize Danielle Leek of the School of Communications.  CLAS Faculty also made us all very proud in the CSCE awards (see the blue bar to the left for details). 

Very nice to see all of you getting a jump on 2013. My very best wishes to you all for the coming semester and year.  I'm looking forward to reading what you write in your book of Opportunity.


What the Deans are Doing in January

Of his January activities, Dean Antczak notes, "Apropos of early January, the new semester will open with a flurry of startup meetings for me-Provost Cabinet, Unit Heads, Hauenstein Advisory Cabinet, PSMs, Deans Academic Advising, and Big Data among them.  Faculty Council follows, as does the meeting of the Graduate Faculty, and some planning of the Library's Knowledge Market Programs, which could be quite fun in the wake of the Speech Lab's very successful fall semester.  Appointments have not yet covered the end of the month like a blanket of white, but it's that time of year.  I worked very hard to find a good snowman metaphor in my calendar, and failed.  I guess I better skate on out of this paragraph..." Associate Dean Shaily Menon will continue to interview search candidates for faculty positions; participate in meetings related to new buildings, renovations, and facilities improvements; and work on an annual progress report of CLAS strategic goals for 2012. She will facilitate a first year faculty development seminar on engaged service and a second year faculty development seminar on career mapping and scholarly publishing in the digital age. As part of her outreach activities, Shaily will work with the advisory committee for the Office of Community Engagement on campus and she will attend her first meeting of the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute Board of Trustees in Hastings. She will teach an introductory natural resources management class during the winter semester and mentor graduate student research. Associate Dean Mary Schutten continues her efforts related to several student support initiatives on orientation, academic advising, and admissions. She will continue collaborating with the College of Education on a series of initiatives involving CLAS/COE related to student teaching, teacher tests, secondary admissions, etc.  She continues to implement and assess degree cognate substitution requests, support the work of the CLAS Curriculum Committee as ex officio; and serve as coordinator for the School Health Education minor as well as serve as a faculty mentor for Movement Science. She will present a paper on transfer students and registration strategies at an international conference, be involved in the interview process for faculty candidates, convene several meetings related to a grant proposal and possible certificate programs, and continue to identify curricular efficiencies. Associate Dean Gary Stark will monitor final schedules for Spr/Sum 2013, Fall 2013, and Winter 2014; interview job candidates in the Modern Languages & Literatures Department; prepare materials for the salary adjustment process; attend Provost Cabinet meetings; facilitate the work of Faculty Council and the College Personnel Committee; serve on the Internationalization Task Force; recruit students for the Freshman Study Abroad seminar; and recruit for and participate in Awards of Distinction Scholarship Competitions.





A Community of Interpreters Reacting to the Past  

I try to do "humanism," a word I continue to use stubbornly despite the scornful dismissal of the term by sophisticated post-modern critics.  By humanism I mean first of all attempting to dissolve Blake's mind-forg'd manacles for the purposes of reflective understanding and genuine disclosure.  Moreover, humanism is sustained by a sense of community with other interpreters and other societies and periods:  strictly speaking, therefore, there is no such thing as an isolated humanist. 

~Edward W. Said, Orientalism  


Reacting to the Past (RTTP) is a grand experiment in engaged education run out of Barnard College and actively supported by its originator, historian Mark C. Carnes.  The RTTP website explains the premise: Reacting to the Past (RTTP) consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. ... It seeks to draw students into the past, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve intellectual and academic skills.

GVSU history Professor Gretchen Galbraith discovered this pedagogy after Maria Cimitile (Provost's Office) noted to her an article on RTTP in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Excited by the possibilities of this approach, Gretchen attended a summer institute to better understand the games and ready herself to use them in her own classes.  She saw that many of the strengths of this method aligned well with GVSU discussions of the Gen Ed revisions as well as AAC&U LEAP goals. 

"The word 'game' can be a little problematic for some academics," Gretchen admits, "but if you work beyond any assumptions you may have about play and games, you get to the learning."  She explains that this method goes beyond traditional student participation in class discussion because it requires more work than students usually do in other class contexts. Students learn by taking on the role of an historical figure or represent a position that was influential during a particular historical period.  To properly inhabit that figure or position, the student has to do a great deal of research about the historical context and that person's stances within that time's larger intellectual argument. 

The moments in history that lend themselves particularly well to these encounters are those that bring conflicting ideas into sharp relief with major historical consequences. The students read classic primary texts by authors such as Galileo and Darwin, or as in the case of the French Revolution game in which Gretchen's Honors Students were engaged in Fall 2012, texts such as Rousseau's General Will and Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France.  Detailed role descriptions of six to eight pages provide important background and constrains for the students including their victory objectives.  Within their role's constrains, students develop strategies and sometimes work in factions. 

They learn some valuable political realities as they seek to persuade other players.  For instance, in the French Revolution game, there were four factions: The crowd, representing general will Radical Jacobins Moderates Conservatives, such as the nobility and clergy The rest were Indeterminates who research roles such as that of an historian or journalist.  When the roles and objectives have been hashed out with the professor, the students meet in an imagined national assembly to debate the real issues of that time.  The professor functions to call students out, if their classmates have not already done so, when they stray indefensibly from their role's intellectual underpinnings.

"Factions produce their own newspapers every two sessions," Gretchen explains, "and these must be well researched."  Students also use intellectual journals to increase their engagement with the material.  A beneficial side effect is that the feedback provided by Gretchen on these assignments is perceived as quite individualized interaction that, while a lot of work, improves students' sense of knowing their professor. Gretchen describes many aspects of the playing of the game are intentional symbolic-students lobby one another to don the colors of their cause, for example.  She notes that while red hats and other signs of allegiance become important, students quickly learn that what works in the game are an important skillset including persuasion, effective public speaking, collaboration, and social skills. At the summer institute, Gretchen has enjoyed discussing with colleagues how to push students past their "Midwest nice" and out of their comfort zones. 

The institute provides a community of colleagues who are passionately involved in thinking about learning and excited about their classrooms.  She knows that students come to care deeply about the game and that it has been so successful elsewhere that the method has been used extensively in the Freshman Seminars at places such as Barnard, Smith and Simpson College.  Here in Michigan, EMU, CMU, MSU and others have joined the RTTP consortium and are making use of the technique. Gretchen is convinced enough to spend one month of class meetings on the game and notes that students are involved in extensive work outside of class to prepare, such as face-to-face meeting with their faction members and online collaboration. 

She hopes to make use of the method in future Gen Ed and Issues courses.  She's also aware of games geared to the STEM disciplines and feels that many of her CLAS colleagues will find the RTTP website interesting. How does one assess an assignment of this type?  Gretchen uses student writing (such as reflective essays), speeches, success in the game, rubrics, historiography, and research to measure student success.  In a final class debrief when the role-playing has ended, the students reveal the secret objectives they were assigned, and there is a discussion about any ways in which a game diverged from actual historical reality.  For instance, a charismatic student may draw more adherents to a position than was the case in history. 

Subjectivity becomes the topic of discussion with a palpable prime example.  Students are then in an excellent position to understand articles about the different lenses, the differing perspectives on an event such as the French Revolution because they have lived that difference themselves. For Gretchen, the experience is one she has shared.  At the summer institute, she played a game set in 1914 in the role of a suffragist.  A coup was mounted against her, and she found herself joining an unlikely faction-so the unpredictable nature of the game's flow of arguments and allegiances is something she experienced first-hand.  It taught her that staying historically accurate takes some work and an occasional guiding hand from the facilitator.

Gretchen points out that the founder, Mark Carnes wanted to harness students' natural subversiveness, their affinity for creating alternate worlds and avatars for themselves, by bringing this impulse into the classroom in an intellectually rigorous game.  He seems to be onto something because students report looking forward to it.