I recently returned from a trip to Heifer International’s Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas as part of my experimental new course called Real World Survivor: Experiencing Poverty through Heifer Ranch. After learning about the issues captured by the UN Millennium Development Goals, we–14 college students, 6 local high school students and 8 assorted faculty and staff–headed to Heifer to live in their Global Village for a three day simulation on hunger and poverty. The upper level course is team taught by myself, a philosopher, and an education professor and is the prototype for the interdisciplinary keystone courses that will cap our new general education program.
There are so many things I want to comment on now that we are more than halfway through the class: How fascinating, enriching and frustrating it is to team-teach with two other faculty, especially with an entire university community watching. The benefits of working in an environment where courses like this can be developed and put into action in less than a year, coupled with the aggravations of getting paid very little for a lot of work. The challenge of trying to intentionally incorporate six different skills into the course assignments and assessments. Handling the differing expectations of teachers and students, where the teachers see the course as New, Innovative, and Fundamentally Crucial to the University’s Mission, and the students see it as ‘that class I have on Wednesday evening.’ The new research questions about community development and experiential learning that are running rampant in my head. The joys of watching students handle living in hunger and poverty for three days and come out the other side stronger as individuals and a community–at least for now. And most importantly: how I managed to sleep on the abandoned school bus rife with hornet nests that served as my ‘home’ during the simulation.
In the coming weeks I plan to comment on all of the above as I think my experience with this course really illustrates the challenges and benefits of building an entire course around active learning principles.