About Teaching Anthropology: A TA-Faculty Workshop
Hantman and Susan McKinnon, Department of Anthropology
Fall 1996 semester, teaching assistants and faculty members in the Department
of Anthropology gathered together every Wednesday evening in Brooks Hall
to eat dinner and talk about teaching anthropology. These sessions were
the result of an innovative and energetic proposal for a Teaching Resource
Center TA Development Grant written by two (then) first-year Anthropology
graduate students, Jeffrey Feldman and Jeff Fleisher. Their proposal called
for a semester-long weekly TA - Faculty workshop, the purpose of which
was "to develop improved teaching methods for social and cultural
issues that are unique to the teaching of under-graduate anthropology."
Chair (Hantman) and Director of Graduate Studies (McKinnon), we enthusiastically
supported the idea of the workshops and were quite pleased when the TRC
awarded the grant to the Department (and happy to kick in matching funds
to subsidize the dinner component of the workshop). As this is being written,
the workshops are winding down and we can reflect back on what has been
accomplished. There are positives and negatives to be re-viewed, to be
sure, but we know that by the standards of our own experience in graduate
school relating to preparation for teaching, these sessions were extraordinary.
stresses theoretical and (increasingly) method-ological issues in anthropology,
but we have not typically stressed the preparation for careers as teachers.
This past semester, however, faculty and graduate students came together
every week for an hour and a half to discuss, debate, and share methods
of teaching the principal lessons of our discipline. Some of what was
learned is for immediate use and application; much is tucked away for
some time in the future. But the issues of teaching anthropology were
"on the table" and we think both faculty and graduate students
took away different ideas and techniques that can be tailored to a variety
of teaching situations. Along the way, we also taught each other something
about our own specializations in anthropology, and about how best to share
what we know with under-graduate students.
Structure and Content of the Workshops
After the grant
was awarded, we met with the graduate students who had helped prepare the
proposal, and collectively we defined the topics for each week of the semester.
We identified issues that are specific to discussion sections as well those
relating to the teaching of seminars and lectures. We identified topics
regarding teaching philosophies and methods which are common to undergraduate
teaching across disciplines, but we paid particular attention to issues
that are specific to the teaching of the diverse subject areas of anthropology.
To fit all of this in, we divided each week's session in half. During the
first half we discussed the teaching of key issues from a uniquely anthropological
perspective. During the second half of each session, we addressed teaching
techniques that may or may not be specific to anthropology. We set the workshop
up as a one-credit, credit/no-credit, graduate course entitled "Practicum
in Teaching Anthropology." This formality, along with the promise of
the weekly dinner and socializing, helped insure full participation even
as work loads and other teaching responsibilities loomed in predictable
The topics we covered included ethnocentrism and cultural relativism, culture
and multiculturalism, gender studies, race, evolution and religion, cultural
critiques of science, the study of ritual, the study of kinship, and folklore.
For each session, additional members of the faculty joined us and were asked
to work with one of the participating graduate students to lead the discussion,
and to describe the key points they try to convey in teaching their material
to undergraduates and the key texts and other resources they use to convey
those points. This was an all too rare opportunity to hear our colleagues
describe how they put a course syllabus together and what methods they find
particularly effective in teaching undergraduate students. As preparation
for our teaching assistants, who are all now leading discussion sections,
who may soon be asked to teach a general introductory level course, and
who may be in a department where they must teach outside of their particular
research interests, we know these lessons will be valuable in the long term.
We have both taught ANTH 101, our general introductory survey of anthropology
lecture course, and we would have appreciated having had the opportunity
to think through aspects of that course in the way we did in these workshops.
half of each session focused on teaching methods and resources. We covered
topics such as encouraging discussion in sections, facilitating discussion
in lecture classes, using in-class writing exercises, using the Internet,
using a case study approach, creating a syllabus, the structure of the
college's advising system, and (specific to anthropology) teaching methods
in archaeology, linguistics, and ethnohistory classes. The students in
the workshop were each expected to prepare a brief presentation on one
of these topics. The resources of the TRC were heavily and valuably exploited
in putting these presentations together. We also drew on our faculty members
who had been Lilly/Un-iversity Teaching Fellows in the past, and their
expertise was particularly appreciated.
- The end
product of the workshop will be a handbook summarizing the results of
each week's discussion. Each student in the course was asked to prepare
the entry for the week they covered. This handbook will be a permanent
and expandable resource for graduate students and faculty. In retrospect,
we know we tried to do too much in one semester. Each session might
have been better spent focused on one issue, rather than having to cut
off discussion so often to cover our overly ambitious curriculum. Having
said that, we can only paraphrase what virtually every member of the
faculty said to us after they participated in one of the workshop sessions
- "That was interesting, worthwhile and fun. I wish I had had something
like that when I was in graduate school." We agreed wholeheartedly.
For all of the valuable information and guides to be found in the archive
of the TRC, it was particularly useful to bring these issues "home"
to our own discipline, to talk and learn across subdisciplines and across
generations of anthropologists. The knowledge gained by us and by those
of our graduate students who are now teaching in sections, and who plan
careers as professors, was substantial.