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“Williams College tutorials get top marks”

Dave Fehr writes for the Berkshire Advocate and quite often about Williams College. Here is his latest story from the Advocate <div

http://www.advocateweekly.com/devilsadvocate

Posted: 03/09/2011 01:34:50 PM EST

Wednesday March 9, 2011

“For a change, write something nice about Williams College.”

This was suggested recently by one of my nine loyal readers. It made me wonder whether I’ve really been that tough on them, so I did a quick check of 150 or so columns written for The Advocate and The Transcript before that.

Williams appears in many of them; if I’m going to “write local,” what other subject is more interesting? Well more than half showed the college in a positive light. While many of the athletic facilities are dreadful and the policy on athletic admissions is unrealistic (there were also tongue-in-cheek rants about the curious aversion to air conditioning), few other columns were negative save for the time they essentially stopped serving lunch at the Faculty Club.

Everything else, especially teaching, which is obviously what matters most, and athletics, which matters most to me (!), gets top grades. I also believe the college is a good citizen and is generous to the town, but it seems that opinion is not universal around here.

So how about this for “something nice”? Tutorials are one of the most exciting innovations in American undergraduate education, and Williams is right in the forefront of this initiative. At a time when (especially at large universities) class sizes are expanding and many courses are essentially taught by graduate assistants, tutorial programs go in the opposite direction.

 
They constitute as close to pure learning Read more

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Williams College: A New Trajectory of Competitiveness (Proposal 4 & Conclusion)

4. Increase the number of tutorials to a point where people can actually get into them.

We need to play up this aspect of the Williams curriculum to differentiate us from other competitive schools. There are many people that give up going to other elite colleges in order to benefit from our tutorials, only to find that they will maybe participate in one or two, if they get lucky, throughout their Williams careers.

Conclusion

It is our estimation that the above policies will make Williams an even more successful institution than it already is. Even though Williams is an excellent college, we respectfully believe that there is always room for improvement.

If you wish to read all of the proposals at once, they can be found at http://www.ephblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Williams-Proposal.pdf

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Waiting To Get Clubbed

From Swarthmore Professor Tim Burke:

While they’re here [at Swarthmore] their writing may improve, their skills in using various academic disciplines may deepen, their knowledge of a particular subject or field may grow very impressively. But many students who grow in those ways do not necessarily become better at speaking or at presenting themselves effectively, not even in the controlled environment of classroom discussion. To be honest, I think some of our students become worse at self-presentation and speaking skills in their time here. Some adapt too strongly to the narrow particularity of academic conversation. Other students get too used to political or social engagement with a community that politely indulges most of their demands or arguments or has a fairly strong consensus culture, never really experiencing serious disagreement or plurality of opinion. I’ve occasionally suggested, semi-seriously, that I feel like we train some students as the speaking and presentation equivalents of baby seals on the ice, waiting to get clubbed.

Indeed. I like to imagine that tutorials help with this. I have heard that some tutorials involve some serious and contentions back-and-forths between the students and with the professor. True? What was your experience in tutorials? One of the main reasons to end all lectures is that, the more small classes that students are in, the more they are forced into speaking in a public setting, even if it is one as supportive as a Williams classroom.

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Williams Tutorials

I’ve heard a little bit about tutorials here on EphBlog, how unique they are to Williams, how they have been one of Morty’s pet projects, how they should be put on the ever-growing list of “things that need to be budgeted”, but I don’t recall hearing much about them from those who have been, or are currently, enrolled in one.

This article on the Williams website says:

More common in older universities in Britain, the tutorial format is rare in U.S. higher education.

How rare? Does anyone know where else they are offered?

How a tutorial course is conducted does vary, but usually 10 students will be enrolled. At the beginning of the term, the instructor divides the students into five pairs. Each pair meets with the instructor each week for about an hour. At these weekly meetings, one student will deliver a prepared essay or presentation about the assignment for that week. The other student and the instructor offer a critique. The following week the students switch roles.

I’d like to hear more about this. Does the prof determine the pairs, or can two students decide they want to partner?

Student course evaluations for tutorials are very high – generally significantly higher than for other courses at comparable levels. In a survey of alumni from 1989 through 1996 who had taken at least one tutorial, more than 80 percent indicated that their tutorial was “the most valuable of my courses” at Williams.

Any of those 80 percent reading EphBlog? If so, could you tell us about your tutorial experience?

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