Interdisciplinary courses will reshape core classes Reply

Allison Nekola – 1851 Staff


Lasell administration is offering interdisciplinary seminars to sophomore students as an opportunity to alter the traditional core courses in the spring 2014 semester.

The idea emerged four years ago during a conversation over lunch between Pro- fessors Michael Daley and Lori Rosenthal. Daley, a professor of environmental studies, discussed his solution for excess energy waste and asked Rosenthal, a professor of social sciences, about an efficient way to coax people to use his proposed solution. The two went on to talk of teaching a course together someday. Two years later, their plan became a reality when they were granted to teach a pilot interdisciplinary seminar.

The first interdisciplinary seminar, Persuading People Preserving the Planet, was held during the Fall 2012 semester, intertwining social and environmental science.

Traditional classes are filled with about 25 students; but with two professors, the class size doubles. Typically, students are separated into two groups for one main group project. Last year, half of the students learned behavior changes with Rosenthal and half learned scientific technology changes with Daley. As the semester progressed they grouped into smaller sec- tions of three to four students, to work on their own ideas for a separate project.

The same course will be provided this semester as a second pilot, but the goals of the class will be different. The main objective of last year’s course was to reduce the carbon footprint of commuters at Lasell. This year, the goal is to reduce waste from campus printing.

Although the class has a main goal, the students work on smaller projects throughout the course. “I brought in a Dunkin’ Donuts bag…showed the ‘Please Recycle This Bag’ sign on the bottom,” said Daley. “Then Professor Rosenthal and I discussed the phrases used by social scientists that could better influence people to recycle. We had students redesign the bags in the groups and took a vote on which would persuade more people to do what was written. The students will design a survey to see whether the bag they selected really affected people’s desire to recycle more.”

Lasell’s “revision of the core” has promoted the new innovation in course teaching. General education has previously been a “check-off ” system, according to Joanna Wiess of the Boston Globe, that students pay little mind to. These seminars look to change that.

Jim Ostrow, Vice President for Academic Affairs, was recently quoted in Weiss’ Boston Globe article saying, “Education isn’t framed and designed in a way students crave it.”

When asked for an explanation, Ostrow said, “When I say that I mean it literally… Typically today when you go to class, are you craving that environment as much as you crave going to see a boyfriend or going to a party? Probably not but you should.”

According to Ostrow, “When students are learning by doing the actual work that people in those fields do, they will immediately experience and feel what it’s like to learn these disciplines by seeing how they apply to real social problems and to real creative challenges. They’ll be relevant; the things they’re learning will matter to them, so ideally they’ll crave more of it, hopefully it will have relevance and matter to students even after the course is over.”

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