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No More Lectures

In April 2005, then-President Schapiro spoke to the Boston Alumni Society. He was funny and engaging, honest and even inspiring. He is everything a college president should be. Williams is unlikely to have a better leader in my lifetime.

schapiroBut on one topic, he was jarringly wrong, inconsistent with the progress that Williams has made in the last 20 years and out of step with the future of elite education. Schapiro claimed that, while discussion sections and tutorials in fields like philosophy and English are wonderful, it would be “stupid” to have discussion-sized sections for introductory classes in economics and the like.

Nothing could be further from the spirit of Mark Hopkins. There are no lectures on the log.

First, lectures are inefficient for students. Anything that a professor says in a lecture, as opposed to a discussion, could just as easily be typed beforehand and read by students at their own convenience. Reading is much quicker than listening and, more importantly, allows different students to focus on the parts that they don’t understand and to skim the parts that they do.

Administrators sometimes believe that large classes save money (one professor teaches 100 students!) but the savings come in the form of less learning per student.

Second, the arguments in favor of lectures in economics at Williams are identical to the arguments for lectures in all subjects at Harvard. According to Schapiro (and many Williams faculty members), there is a minimal amount of knowledge that a student must have in order to be able to even discuss a topic like microeconomics. That may be true, but it is no less true for the poetry of Emily Dickinson or the philosophy of David Hume. At Harvard, they are at least consistent on this topic, lecturing to students on microeconomics and poetry and philosophy. If you believe that students, having done the assigned reading, learn best by discussing poetry and philosophy on the first day of class, then why wouldn’t the same be true of economics and chemistry?

Third, the smaller the class, the more learning occurs. Consider new visiting assistant professor Diana Davis’s ’07 description of her high school experience:

davis“I went to a high school where every single class — English, biology, history, math, economics, Greek — was a discussion class with 13 students or fewer. I have not taken a single class at Williams where I have learned as much, learned as deeply, or remembered as much a year later as I did in my classes in high school.”

Now, most of us did not have the good fortune of going to a high school like Diana’s. Yet no one makes the opposite claim; no one argues that students learn more in lecture than they do in discussion.

Fourth, there would be no better way for Williams to demonstrate to potential applicants that it is a different place, with different values, than by drawing a line at 15 students or so per class. If Williams had no lectures, then there would be less doubt about its educational superiority. The tutorial program already provides Williams with a leadership position in undergraduate education. Abolishing lectures would do even more.

Fifth, claims about the excessive expense involved in having small sections are overblown. A professor currently responsible for the education of 45 students in ECON 110 should organize the class in whatever way is best for her students, not most convenient for her. Better to have three sections of 15 students each, than one large lecture. This will take up more of the professor’s time, but, since so much of the work — planning the class, creating the exams, grading the papers — is a fixed cost (regardless of the number of class meetings), the marginal cost to the professor of having three sections instead of one is small. The very best professors, like Eiko Maruko Siniawer ’97 in history, already split up their large classes. Everyone else should do the same.

Unsure that smaller classes are better? Randomly assign students in ECON 110 to either the traditional lecture or a small section. See which students learn more and enjoy learning more. See which version the professors prefer teaching and why. Measure how many students take more classes in the department and how well they do in those classes.

Six years ago, in his induction lecture, Adam Falk claimed that:

adam_f_023 [W]e have not just the opportunity but, because of the advantages afforded us, the responsibility to be a national leader – maybe the national leader – in innovative and effective teaching. We have all the elements in place: talented faculty; bright, committed students; and, most important, an academic culture that places teaching at its heart. Our faculty walk in the footsteps of Hopkins, Gaudino, and so many others. Innovation does not mean chasing every fad and every new technology, despite all the possibilities that technology affords; often it means embracing the familiar in new and creative ways.

Agreed! A churl might comment that, six years later, there is very little evidence of any teaching innovations, or even modest experiments, at Williams. But we are not churlish today! Instead, we urge Adam Falk to answer one simple question: Do lectures serve Williams students better or worse than small classes? This is, ultimately, an empirical question. A great Williams president would try to answer it.

A version of this article first appeared in the Record in 2006. We have returned to this discussion many times in the years that followed, e.g., here and here. Start here and here for a great back-and-forth. I miss the old EphBlog!
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Miller Phi Beta Kappa Talk

My fellow EphBlogger, Professor Steven Miller, gave a talk at the 150th Anniversary of Phi Beta Kappa At Williams.

Watch the whole thing! Is there a professor at Williams more engaged in attempts to improve/rethink undergraduate education than Miller? If so, tell us about her!

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Williams for $99 a Month

Fascinating article about the future of higher education.

Most people are so invested in the idea of education-by-institution that it’s hard to imagine another way. There’s also a sense that for-profit schools are a little sleazy (and some of them are). Because Web-based higher education is still relatively new, and the market lacks information that allows students to compare introductory courses at one institution to another, consumers tend to see all online courses in the same bad light. “The public isn’t good at discriminating,” says Larry Gould. “They read ‘online course’ and they think ‘low quality,’ even when it’s not true.”

But neither the regulatory nor the psychological obstacles match the evolving new reality. Consumers will become more sophisticated, not less. The accreditation wall will crumble, as most artificial barriers do. All it takes is for one generation of college students to see online courses as no more or less legitimate than any other—and a whole lot cheaper in the bargain—for the consensus of consumer taste to rapidly change. The odds of this happening quickly are greatly enhanced by the endless spiral of steep annual tuition hikes, which are forcing more students to go deep into debt to pay for college while driving low-income students out altogether. If Burck Smith doesn’t bring extremely cheap college courses to the masses, somebody else will.

Which means the day is coming—sooner than many people think—when a great deal of money is going to abruptly melt out of the higher education system, just as it has in scores of other industries that traffic in information that is now far cheaper and more easily accessible than it has ever been before. Much of that money will end up in the pockets of students in the form of lower prices, a boon and a necessity in a time when higher education is the key to prosperity. Colleges will specialize where they have comparative advantage, rather than trying to be all things to all people. A lot of silly, too-expensive things—vainglorious building projects, money-sucking sports programs, tenured professors who contribute little in the way of teaching or research—will fade from memory, and won’t be missed.

But other parts of those institutions will be threatened too—vital parts that support local communities and legitimate scholarship, that make the world a more enlightened, richer place to live. Just as the world needs the foreign bureaus that newspapers are rapidly shutting down, it needs quirky small university presses, Mughal textile historians, and people who are paid to think deep, economically unproductive thoughts. Rather than hiding within the conglomerate, each unbundled part of the university will have to find new ways to stand alone. There is an unstable, treacherous future ahead for institutions that have been comfortable for a long time. Like it or not, that’s the higher education world to come.

Read the whole thing. What are the implications for Williams?

Williams is selling a luxury product. And everyone in such a business knows that you compete on quality, not price.

Williams should increase tuition by 50%, decrease the student body to 400 per class, guarantee every student a single room and eliminate lectures. Offer the most serious and luxurious college experience and you will occupy a desirable niche in the elite education ecosystem.

UPDATE: The above was written in 2010. (Alas, our delays from submission to publication can be lengthy at EphBlog.) Have the subsequent 4 years made them seem prescient or ridiculous?

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Lecture Surfing

The Record ought to write an article about laptop use in large classes. I bet that they would find something like this:

Those students who, from the front of the classroom, look all industrious on their laptops? Were playing games on Facebook, checking their friends’ online photo albums, posting messages on what looked to be gaming discussion boards, checking TV listings (and possibly setting their DVRs remotely), buying shoes, scoping out concert tickets, watching a kung fu movie (with the sound muted), and checking in on online discussions for other classes. The one student who was using her laptop during lecture to complete peer reviews of classmates’ papers (for another class) seemed like the model of diligence.

Indeed. Is the same true at Williams? If so, the solution is obvious:

So a significant fraction of your students choose to spend a significant fraction of their time in your lectures engaged with something other than listening to that lecture, and you view that as a failing on the students part? Really?

Here’s an exercise that may be revealing: Have somebody, maybe a student or an automated system, whatever, make a transcript of everything you said during a two or three hour lecture, verbatim. Then read it, front to back. It won’t take you three hours. It will take you fifteen or twenty minutes. That should tell you what the real information density of your lectures is like to people who used to have the option of reading other books, making doodles or just struggling to stay awake, but who now have the option of wifi.

Standing in front of people talking to them might be the slowest, least convenient, most error-prone way of conveying information available in the modern world. The solution to this problem, assuming you’re even willing to admit it’s a problem, isn’t to get rid of laptops or distractions. It’s to get rid of the unbelievably inefficient tedium that are low-bandwidth, one-person-talking lectures.

Exactly correct. No More Lectures!

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CGCL VII: Mark Hopkins

This is the first day of EphBlog’s Winter Study seminar on the induction speeches of Williams College presidents.

The most famous short sentence about Williams College is President Garfield’s aphorism that the best college is “Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.” Yet the most famous long sentence comes from Mark Hopkins’ own induction address (pdf), given when he was just 34.

[W]e are to regard the mind, not as a piece of iron to be laid upon the anvil and hammered into any shape, nor as a block of marble in which we are to find the statue by removing the rubbish, nor as a receptacle into which knowledge may be poured; but as a flame that is to be fed, as an active being that must be strengthened to think and to feel — to dare, to do, and to suffer.

But, as popular as that sentence has proven over the years (it was quoted twice at Adam Falk’s recent induction), the conclusion that Hopkins himself draws in the very next paragraph is almost always forgotten.

There is indeed, great temptation on the part both of teachers and scholars to pursue a course not in accordance with this principle. It is far easier for a teacher to generalize a class, and give it a lesson to get by rote, and hear it said, and let it pass, than it is to watch the progress of individual mind, and awaken interest, and answer objections, and explore tendencies, and, beginning with the elements, to construct together with his pupils, so that they shall feel they aid in it, the fair fabric of a science with which they shall be familiar from the foundation to the topstone.

Williams, with its small classes and tutorials, has much to be proud of in the attention that it pays to “the progress of individual mind.” Yet, given our great wealth, the shocking fact is how much we fail to follow Hopkins’ vision.
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No More Lectures

Adam Kotsko defends lectures at Insider Higher Ed.

One of the most entrenched opinions in discussions of pedagogy in higher ed is that classes should ideally be discussion-based, with lecturing kept to an absolute minimum. Lectures, we are told, fail to teach students in an enduring way, because they inculcate a passive learning style that results in information being stored only long enough to be “regurgitated” on an exam and forgotten soon after. By contrast, conventional wisdom holds, students are unlikely to forget what they learn in the context of a discussion, because they have to work hard to come up with their own answers. In this context, the consistent reports from students that they want more lectures are dismissed as laziness on their part, a reflection of a less-developed learning style that we need to challenge rather than coddle.

The goals of critical thinking are the only possible goals of a liberal arts education, and I support them without reservation. Yet you can’t jump straight to them, and I think that a lot of the ways people talk about pedagogy assume that you can — and what enables them to do that is to assume that the books can handle the data transmission just fine. We need to take seriously the fact that on many important levels, freshmen (and not just freshmen) don’t know how to read. It’s a fixable problem, but it’s a real one.

Not at a place like Williams. The only students who “don’t know how to read” are those, mostly caetgory X and category Y, who probably shouldn’t be at Williams in the first place. (I even doubt that this is a major problem among the weaker Williams students.) Lectures only work better, at most, for lazy students and arrogant professors. Since Williams should work toward making its students less lazy and its professors less arrogant, we should get rid of lectures. Full argument here. Highlights:

Third, the smaller the class, the more learning occurs. Consider Diana Davis’s ’07 description of her high school experience:

“I went to a high school where every single class – English, biology, history, math, economics, Greek – was a discussion class with 13 students or fewer. I have not taken a single class at Williams where I have learned as much, learned as deeply, or remembered as much a year later as I did in my classes in high school.”

Now, most of us did not have the good fortune of going to a high school like Diana’s. Yet no one makes the opposite claim; no one argues that students learn more in lecture than they do in discussion.

Fourth, there would be no better way for Williams to demonstrate to potential applicants that it is a different place, with different values, than by drawing a line at 15 students or so per class. If Williams had no lectures, then there would be less doubt about its educational superiority. The tutorial program already provides Williams with a leadership position in undergraduate education. Abolishing lectures would do even more.

Outlawing class sizes above 19 would be the single best thing that incoming President Adam Falk could do in his first two years at Williams. Will he take the chance?

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Fill Out the Middle

Here is some out-of-the-box thinking on tutorials.

The Williams College tutorial system was started in the late eighties, around the same time that the Williams-Exeter Program at Oxford began. The two are inextricably linked — the Williams tutorial system was based on the Oxford system, is advertised as “Oxford style”, and has continuously been compared and contrasted with the experiences of the twenty-eight students who go to Oxford each year.

The 2002 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education describes:

Here’s how the tutorials at Williams work: Two students — one presenting a paper, the other critiquing it — spend an hour each week with a professor. Unlike independent study, reading lists, problem sets, and assignments are part of the agenda. If all goes well, the professor stays quietly in the background.

This system works great — at times. The article goes on to describe Professor James Wood’s tutorial on World War II, and the fabulous experiences that students who took that course had. I took a different tutorial with Professor Wood: Hist 136T, on World War I. It was the best course I’ve taken at Williams so far. Professor Wood is every bit the magician that the article describes. Alternating essays and critiques each week, a great atmosphere, and nothing more than an insightful comment and a few closing remarks from Professor Wood each hour. It works great.

However, not every tutorial is in History, and not every subject is as amenable to the one-essay-a-week system.

Author Arjun Ravi Narayan ’10 continues below. He will also be responding to any comments/criticisms/questions readers might have.
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Every Class a Tutorial

What is the future of a Williams education? Every class a tutorial. That future is probably decades away, but it is no less inevitable for the number of years between now and then. Why?

Consider the ever increasing wealth of elite education offered free on-line. Start with MIT OpenCourseWare. Check out Open Yale Courses. Here you have almost all the resources of two of the worlds great universities. Each day, more and more classes are added. Why should a Williams student spend one minute in a Williams lecture when an even better lecture is available on the web? Why should a Williams professor spend one minute lecturing when someone else is doing a better job for free, at any hour of the day or night?

The shouldn’t. Even if we assume that every Williams professor is a brilliant lecturer, none of them — not a single one — is the world’s greatest lecturer on topic X. [And, even if, say, Colin Adams is the world’s greatest lecturer on knots, then his lecturers will soon find their way to the web, just as Robert Shiller’s have at Yale and Gilbert Strang’s have at MIT.] It follows that professors should not spend their time lecturing, should instead devote their energies to providing the sort of personal interaction that is not available on the web, is not, in fact, as available at places like MIT and Yale as it ought to be..

The internet makes it necessary and inevitable for every Williams professor to take her place on the log. The sooner that day arrives, the better.

Such a Williams will require a different structure for measuring professor workloads. Instead of using classes (regardless of enrollment) as the appropriate metric, we will need to focus on the number of students educated. A Williams professor responsible for 40 students in a semester is contributing more to Williams than a professor responsible for 5.

Do you doubt that lectures are a waste of everyone’s time? Here is an easy test. Go to a large Williams lecture and sit in the back row. Look at the students with their laptops. Are they dutifully following the lecture, taking notes of all the important points. No. They are e-mailing. They are texting. They are paying some attention to the lecture, but the rate of information flow is so low that their time is largely wasted. If the professor would just transcribe his notes (and not punish them for missing class), the vast majority would not bother to attend.

Compare that reality to small discussion sections and tutorials. The vast majority of students are paying attention, engaged in the discussion, prepared for the topic.

The logical endpoint for Williams is every class a tutorial. That’s an ambitious goal, one that we will not achieve any year soon. Yet we can resist the arc of history only so long. The next logical step is No More Lectures. Will Morty take that step? Probably not. And that’s a shame. Williams has an opportunity to brand itself as the most intimate elite education option in the world. Every year that passes without us taking advantage of the lead provided by the tutorial system is a year wasted, another year in which our competitors can catch up. The longer we wait, the less special we will be.

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Tutorials

Morty repeatedly sang the praises of the tutorial program. He mentioned that this was Williams’ “signature” program and cited impressive numbers as to tutorial growth over the last 8 years, something like 20 tutorials to 71 and 160 students enrolled to 760. [Does anyone have the exact numbers? I am (mis)remembering as best I can.] He thought that the College was on track (perhaps for the class of 2009?) to have at least 75% of the students graduate having taken at least one tutorial.

 Morty discussed a conversation he had with (previous president) Frank Oakley about tutorials. Oakley pointed out that, given Williams strength in tutorials, it made sense to devote more resources to them rather then towards areas of weakness. This made perfect sense to Morty since it is (more or less) the economic principal of comparative advantage.  Morty told this story in an amusing fashion, somehow managing to both compliment Oakley and make fun of his fellow economists.

Quick quiz: Can you see how that claim illustrates Mark Taylor’s critique of Morty as a “wise guy” rather than a “wise man?” Screed below. Read more

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No More Lectures Again

Ace class secretary (and experienced teacher) Russ Werkman ’88 sent in these comments on my proposal to eliminate lectures at Williams.

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No More Lectures

Some kooky alum with too much time on his hands has a Record op-ed arguing that Williams should end all lectures, capping the maximum class size at 15. You read it here and here first.

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PSCI 120

In our thread on job openings and class sizes, a TA for Political Science 120 was kind enough to point out that:

I believe that PSCI 120 is a discussion/lecture class in order to help freshmen and sophs (for whom the course is intended, Prof McAllister makes it very difficult for upperclassmen to take the class)try political science in an environment that isn’t entirely intimidating. Political Science is not a topic that is very common in high school, and many students have little confidence in expressing their opinions and views on controversial current events. I believe that the size of Professor McAllister’s class helps the students figure out if they like PSCI (I took the class and decided to be a major) and then they will go on to take other and perhaps smaller classes.

Also, another thing is there is a huge difference, as I am sure you know, between 50 and 15. Professor McAllister is an excellent lecturer and I do not believe that his skills are being wasted by having a larger class, rather the students are fortunate to have one of the most talented lecturers in the department.

1) Thanks for the detail! Discussions at EphBlog are always more interesting and productive when they are grounded in actual facts. If other readers could tell us more about PSCI 100 and PSCI 120, we would appreciate it. I would be especially curious about the roles played by the TAs. There were not, I think, TAs in political science at Williams 20 years ago.

2) Is the purpose of 100/120 to allow students to “try political science in an environment that isn’t entirely intimidating”? I have my doubts. Old timers will recall that the department used to be structured with 4 intro courses (101 — 104), which were almost exactly equivalent to the current 201 — 204. They were far from “initimidating.” They were meant to be introductions to political science and served that role perfectly. Moreover, they were all discussion-sized, small enough that the professors got to know us as individuals.

3) In what sense is PSCI 120 a discussion/lecture class? I understand the “lecture” part, but how/where does the “discussion” come in, at least in any meaningful way? The course that I found most frustrating at Williams 20 years ago (PSCI 221: Issues in US Foreign Policy) was, I think, the intellectual forerunning of 120. The professor (Mac Brown) was a fine lecturer, but discussion/debate was impossible because there were too many (40+) students in the class. Brown did his best to have a little back and forth, but it was painful and annoying. There was so much that I (and many others) wanted to say and talk about, and yet there was no way to have that conversation. The log was too crowded. But perhaps 120 is run differently. Details please!

Ridding Williams of all lecture classes is a longterm goal of EphBlog.

4) The (true!) fact that McAllister is an excellent lecturer should be about as relevant in a Williams classroom as the fact that he is a star squash player. There should be no lectures in political science! This is one of the central reasons why Williams is different (and better) than a place like Harvard. Is this even worth debating? Does anyone believe that a student is better off being lectured at by McAllister in a class of 50 than she would be having a discussion with McAllister in a class of 15?

I am not arguing that PSCI 120 is a bad class or that McAllister is a bad professor. In fact, I am sure that PSCI 120 is a wonderful class and that McAllister is a star professor (besides being an author at EphBlog and the sponsor of our Winter Study seminar). But PSCI 120 would be better with fewer students.

Williams should redirect resources so that it has more professors teaching courses like PSCI 100/120 that students want to take and fewer professors teaching classes that students do not want to take.

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Job Openings

Concerned, like the Record, with the crush of students in economics, the increased class size and decreased tutorial offerings? No worries. The Department is hiring.

ECONOMICS (Ralph Bradburd; Dec. 2) One tenure-track position in economics for entry level or advanced assistant professor level, fields open.

Why does the Department only have permission for one hire? Well, the College has other priorites.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES (Joy James; Sept. 15, 2005) Two tenure-track positions in African-American and Africana Diasporo Studies.

I believe that “Diasporo” in the job notice is a misprint for “Diaspora” and not some trendy new academic jargon, but I have been wrong before.

No doubt these new positions are driven by increased student interest in courses offered in AAS. Consider enrollments from fall 2005.

African-American Studies
AAS 165   Racial Justice 20th Cent  Amer  19
AAS 206   African American Social Mvmnts  15
AAS 211   Topics African-Amer Performnce  11
AAS 229   Tchngs Black Sacred Rhetoric     7
AAS 235   Cult. Pol. in the Caribbean     23
AAS 236   Witnessing:Slavery & Aftermath  19
AAS 281   African-Amer History 1619-1865  15
AAS 372   African-Am Lit Thought Culture  13
AAS 383   Black Women in Am:Slvry-Presnt   6

Hmmm. Why does Williams need more professors in this area if virtually every course already offered has fewer than 20 students enrolled?

As always, this is not the complaint made by stupid critics of the academy. There is nothing intrinsically more interesting about, say, the Iliad then there is in a course like Teaching Black Sacred Rhetoric. To each her own. I am glad these classes are offered at Williams. I am pleased to see students taking them and professors teaching them.

But resources are limited. There are an average of 14 students per class in AAS. Unless and until more student interest arises, Williams should concentrated its hiring in other areas. Consider Political Science.

Political Science
PSCI 100   Asia and the World              60   POI
PSCI 120   America & the World After 9-11  50   POI

I have no doubt that the Professors Crane and McAllister did great jobs in these classes, given their enrollment. But there is simply no way a mostly-lecture class with 50 students can be as good as a discussion class with 15. Indeed, it is against every principal that makes a Williams education special. Fifteen students can sit, albeit a bit crowded, on the proverbial log. Fifty can not. Moreover, this does not even take account of the students who wanted to enroll in these classes and were turned away. How many were?

Williams needs to decide if it is going to teach important classes that its students want to take in a manner consistent with its best ideals. This question goes directly to the heart of what Williams should be. It is a shame that the Diversity Initiatives did not confront this question, did not wrestle with the limited resources that confront even a school with Williams’ wealth.

Yet the whole situation is even worse than it appears at first blush. The Diversity Initiatives pretend, and KC Johnson reasonably assumes, that no decision has been made about the Hu-DeHart recommendations that Williams be reorganized. Currently, Williams has virtually all of the professors who teach AAS classes (like Chakkalakal, Long and Bean) located in traditional departments (like English, History and Theatre). This is commonsense. Williams is too small a college to support tiny departments. It should offer as many classes as its students want to take in Africana Diaspora Studies (or any other topic) but the professors who teach those courses should be located in large traditional departments. This strikes me as obvious, but is perhaps worth a longer discussion.

Yet the that discussion is probably besides the point. Williams has already decided to go the Hu-DeHart route, to make some hires in AAS instead of new hires in economics or political science. These new hires will report within AAS to, presumably, Professor Joy James; they will teach AAS classes and be focused on AAS students. They will be evaluated by AAS criteria.

Now this may be a good idea. It may be a bad one. But there was never much of a public discussion about it. The College acts like it hasn’t decided whether or not to go in this direction, but it has already taken the first few steps. In fact, I’ll wager that it took those steps when it hired James, that it guaranteed her the budget and authority to make these hires. But that is a story for another day.

Side note: It is nice to see that Williams is a leading location for the study of the Africana Diaspora, at least if you believe Google.

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Passively Suck in Cocktail Knowledge

Phil Culhane ’88 sent in these thoughts on large lecture classes at Williams.

No pedagogical reason for large lecture classes and surely economic reasons for them. However, what about the desire, say, of a student to have a class or two in four years where he or she can sit in the dark and, gently, without too much engagement, look at pretty pictures on the wall? Is that so wrong? Williams could use some of that huge endowment to turn Art History 101/102 into an English 101 kind of thing, but would the demand be there? Maybe 100s of people per year take Art History 101/102 ONLY because they are ensured that they can sit on their butts and not have to do much of anything other than passively suck in cocktail knowledge? But I am biased — that’s why I took the class.

Students now, and us 20 years ago, desire many things. Sometimes the College is wise to fulfill those desires, sometimes it is not. The question is not: Did Phil (and I) have an relaxing time in Art History as lecture. We clearly did. The question is: Would we have been better off if the College taught art history the way it teaches politcal science and philosophy.

After all, nothing prevents the college from offering PHIL 101 and PSCI 101 as large lectures (along with a discussion section). Would it be so terrible if students could “sit in the dark and, gently, without too much engagement” think about truth and justice? Yes, it would. And, assuming that you think that there is are as many interesting topics to discuss, debate and arugue over in art history as there are in philosophy, it follows that as much is loss in treating ARTH 101/102 as a passive “suck” as there would be in other departments.

Of course, it could be that the reason that ARTH 101/102 is so popular is that it is (perceived to be, at least) so passive/easy. If it were taught like the old ENGL 101 (alas, the English department has reorganized things for the worst recently), perhaps fewer students would enroll.

But, big picture, it should not be a concern of the College how many students enroll in ARTH 101 versus PHIL 101 versus anything else. Let students study want they want to study. But it should be a central concern of the College that all the courses it offers be serious and rigorous. ARTH 101 taught in small sections would be a much more serious and rigorous course.

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