Values Cards

Who will survive the first day of class?: UConn Reads Wk 1

Why are you here?

What do you value above all else?

Who will survive?

We kicked off the first class of the semester with a few not-so-easy questions. Every person, myself included, started by introducing themselves and sharing why they came to college. Answers ranged from long-time expectations rooted in family and social pressure, to deep passions to learn or serve the world, and even just practically to obtain a job. I settled on some combination of  excitement for learning and stubbornness.

The first students who came to class helped me randomly distribute ten decks of values cards, small one-word cards with common major values. After the brief introductions, each student was asked to choose the four that meant the most to them personally, leaving all others behind on the tables. Once students returned to their seats I asked them to narrow their selection down to only one card. Groans rose from all corners of the room. Setting down the other three was difficult. With one card in hand, it was their task to meet at least two other people and talk through why they each picked the card they carried and what it meant to them.

Now that we were all becoming a community of friends I gave them the terrible news. The world as we knew it was about to end. Only the people in our classroom and eight other people from outside would survive the day. It was their job to decide first individually, then as a group, who they would invite into their bomb shelter and save to rebuild humanity. Two groups made their selections in time and lived to start again. The other two perished because they just couldn’t decide to let anyone on the list go…

Okay, maybe the world wasn’t really going to end. So why did we start class with these values activities? This semester our class will spend time exploring major questions about the environment, health, our connection to nature, ethics, and how we live our daily lives. To set a productive tone and the expectation of respectful debate, I wanted to open the class by acknowledging and embracing the fact that we will disagree — hopefully regularly. But this class will be a safe space explore big questions and challenge our perspectives.

…. And what will I teach?

This all led us to the biggest question of the day. What do you want from this class? It was the students’ job to select four major class topics. Cell phones out, they rapidly battled to fill up our calendar for the semester. The students have spoken, and they chose to include:

  1. UConn Cows: They wanted to learn about campus agriculture from the people in charge more than any other topic.
  2. Food, Health, & Illness: They wanted to know how what we eat influences our life-long wellness.
  3. Nature v. Technology: They want to look at the tensions between technological advances and natural practices.
  4. Sustainability: And finally they wanted to seriously talk about sustainability and how we can play a positive role in the world.

It’s already looking like it will be a great semester!

The Instructor’s Dilemma: An Introduction to 14 Weeks of Blogging

Empty Hall

UConn Rowe Building 12.30.2014

In exactly three weeks students will return to our campus, again transforming our empty halls into bustling social gathering spaces, productive study areas, and the occasional nap spot. This spring I’m excited to teach an undergraduate research First Year Experience (FYE) centered around UConn Reads for the second year in a row. So like many of you I’m in the final stages of revising my syllabus.

One addition to this year’s version is a regular publication opportunity for my students through the UConn Alumni Association’s A Novel Group of Huskies blog. I’m incredibly grateful to Caitlin (who I have already begun to repost) for allowing me access to this venue so that we can increase student leadership in the initiative. Only the best student writing in the class will be considered, but I’m confident that we’ll be sharing my students’ work related to The Omnivore’s Dilemma with you very soon.

As everyone who knows me in the classroom has probably already guessed, this means that I too will be returning to the blogging world because I never assign anything I’m not willing to do alongside my class. Therefore, over the remaining weeks of break and 14 weeks of the semester I invite you to join us on a journey of food, politics, corn, art, and whatever else may come. Comments, ideas, and inspiration are welcome!