Thursday, August 06, 2020

Brockton Honors

In the Fall 2020 semester, I will be teaching a First-Year Seminar entitled Discovering Brockton, which I first offered under the title Geography of Brockton in 2008, when the First-Year Seminar requirement at Bridgewater State University was new. To date, I have taught the course five or six times, most recently as a Commonwealth Honors course.

GEOG 199: Whether a student is a life-long resident or a newcomer to the area, this provides a deep introduction both to the City of Brockton and the academic discipline of geography. The city’s rich heritage of innovation and its many layers of cultural identity are the background for examining challenges ranging from water supply to economic development. The course meets only once per week so that students have the opportunity to visit – in a university vehicle – the city’s people, cultural landscape, and key institutions through direct visits. Students are responsible for significant writing and research between weekly class meetings, so that each meeting can maximize time in the City of Champions.  
Each student in the class will explore the boundary between the City of Brockton and
one of the eight towns it borders. Contrasts between cities and towns - whether tangible
or intangible - are hugely important to understanding the
 geographies of Massachusetts.

The Bridge
: years ago, a young person I met at a conference helped me to find a metaphor for my teaching that has proven helpful ever since. (I have tried in vain to find her again to express my thanks, but it has not been possible; that is another story.) Rather than mastering content that I deliver to students, I endeavor to connect them to ideas and to other people from whom they (and I) can learn. This course has been a perfect example -- I do have some insights and theoretical perspectives to share directly, and also some places I can take students where they can develop some of their own ideas. But in this course, I am often just that bridge (or chauffeur) connecting them to some real expertise. Quite a few people have helped with this course in the past, and I will be calling on some of them -- and some new connections -- this year.

FALL 2020: I am offering this course fully online, because required social-distancing standards cannot reasonably be met. This means that the popular van rides in and around the city will not be possible. I will be recording some of the walking and "windshield survey" mini-tours on my own, realizing that they will not be quite the same. Likewise, I am asking some of the people with whom I normally would arrange for in-person meetings to provide connections in other ways, whether it be Zoom meetings, pre-recorded presentations, or reference to online materials about their organizations or projects.

The class is scheduled 1:50 to 4:30 on Wednesdays. I will use some of that time for my own presentations. To provide for breaks and to simplify the scheduling of guests, I will endeavor to have guest speakers at 2:00 and 3:00, for up to 50 minutes. Some group guests might occupy both slots on a given day.

It is in fact for these potential collaborators that I created this blog post, by way of providing context for the favors I am asking of them.

Lagniappe

A brief note about the FYS and SYS series of courses: FYS Geography of Brockton was one of a small group of pilot courses before the requirement as finalized. Before teaching the course, I even joined several Bridgewater State College (as we were known then) colleagues at a conference in Tucson organized by the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience. I also piloted the Secret Life of Coffee as a Second-Year seminar the following year, and have taught about 20 sections of that course.

Students enrolled at Bridgewater State University during their first or second year (by credit count, not calendar) are required to take First- and Second-Year Seminars, respectively. Our advising program specifies the exceptions for students arriving with transfer credits, but for most students, these courses are integral to our Core Curriculum. The seminars allow students to practice writing or speaking skills in the context of a particular topic that is of special interest to the faculty member who is leading the course. 

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