Approaching Integrative Learning: Assignments Linking ‘Narratives of Travel’ Courses

Still from Calendar (Egoyan, 1993)

In our previous post we outlined our foray into integrative learning in two linked courses we are currently teaching, which share a student cohort. We draw connections between the two courses with a number of shared integrative assignments and activities.

Integrative Learning (IL) is a General Education requirement at Muhlenberg College, with formal learning goals to “1) Understand relationships among various ways of knowing, and recognize the strengths and limitations of different approaches for comprehending phenomena; 2) Use diverse perspectives and their vocabularies to intentionally recognize and solve problems, address existing questions, and ask new questions; 3) Adapt and apply various perspectives developed in other contexts to new situations, while realizing the strengths and limitations of these different approaches; 4) Communicate the value of an integrative perspective.”1See Muhlenberg’s definition of integrative learning, as approved by Faculty in January 2017. In linking our courses, we are being very overt in emphasizing the points of connection between the two courses, and in modeling in front of them, in joint class sessions, how we are exploring these connections to a discipline outside our own. We also expect the students to be thoughtful and intentional about their own work in making these connections.

We have developed two “integrative assignments” to facilitate this connection and reflection. The first is a semester-long project in which students work in groups to track a current migration issue. Early in the semester we devoted a joint class session to generating a list of some of the major migration issues that were in play as we began teaching the courses in January of 2018. Students then formed groups around five of these issues: DACA; migrants from the Syrian civil war; migrants from Puerto Rico post-hurricane Maria; the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; and the expulsion and massacre of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Each group first did some basic research into the issue they were following and prepared a ten-minute video presentation. Students watched each others’ presentations online before a joint class session in which we all responded to each presentation, asking follow-up questions and making connections between issues.

This assignment doesn’t directly tie in to the exact content of either course, but it emerged out of our shared conviction that culturally- and religiously-inflected travel, and the subsequent conflicts between residents and migrants, are among the most urgent of international issues. In the first discussion we had with the students about their findings, we urged them to be attuned to: how media from different countries might cover their issues differently; distinctions between knowing the migration issue through statistics versus individual stories; and how migrants interact with their destinations when they are an ethnic and/or religious minority in their new home. Such conversations, we hope, will help students to see the connections between current events and our cluster’s emphasis on narratives of religious and cultural travel experiences. Throughout the remainder of the semester, the students will continue to follow their chosen issues using a variety of news sources – national, international, and local – and will report back periodically to the class.

The second integrative assignment is more directly related to the materials from each of our courses. We have chosen six films that have significance for both of our classes, and will use these films, together with readings selected from both classes, as a basis for joint discussion sessions that will draw out the connections between the content of the two classes. Our first joint discussion took place in February. The students watched the Atom Egoyan film Calendar, described in our earlier post, which depicts “heritage tourism,” the significance of Armenian churches to national identity, and contrasts how they can be experienced as situated within a real landscape versus aestheticized in calendar images. The students brought to the discussion a brief written reflection pointing to specific details from the film, an essay by Egoyan about the film, and a series of short articles for the Religion Studies class about Islamic architecture from Muslim Spain. Because the connections to the Religion Studies course were not as explicit in this first film as they will be in some of the films we’ll be showing later in the semester, we were a bit worried about whether the students would be able to draw out some of those connections themselves. Some of them were more hesitant, but starting with small group discussions and then moving to a full class discussion, the students who did find connections were able to make them visible to the others. Common strands they identified included themes of memory, dislocation, and the difference between the concrete manifestation of religious faith in architectural aesthetics and the ineffable experiences of faith.

As we approach the middle of the semester, this project has so far been a success. While it is not a light semester for either one of us, working together both in preparation and in class with the students has not only enriched our teaching but has been a lot of fun. And our excitement as we exchange ideas and bring new perspectives to each other is clearly evident to the students, who so far are joining in with enthusiasm.

Notes   [ + ]

1. See Muhlenberg’s definition of integrative learning, as approved by Faculty in January 2017.

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