|MHC French professor Margaret Switten and Robert Eisenstein,
director of the Five College Early Music Program, look at a medieval
manuscript page using the CD-ROM they developed.
staring from the digital high-resolution computer screen are centuries
old. Garbed in colorful royal robes and knightly headgear, the men and
women are framed by Gothic arches. The professor's mouse highlights the
text that surrounds them, and medieval language is translated into twenty-first
century English. A move of the cursor, and the classroom is filled with
music and lyrics written eight hundred years ago to help tell the story
recorded by a bygone scribe, and the colorful illuminated page of a medieval
manuscript is replaced with a detail of an abbess's hand or a courtier's
facial expression. Suddenly the medieval world does not seem so very far
away. The thirteenth-century court of Alfonso X, the Learned, has come
alive in a Mount Holyoke classroom.
Holyoke's campus, innovative pedagogical approaches such as this one are
opening new windows into spheres as diverse as the medieval world, ecosystems
of campus vernal pools (seasonal pools that provide wildlife habitats),
and statistical methodology. Course material is being approached through
vitalizing curricula, using the latest technology, in classrooms not limited
O'Shea, dean of the faculty, "Many aspects of teaching at Mount Holyoke
have remained unchanged since the College's founding--an emphasis on challenging
students to think for themselves and on academic excellence. Building
on this foundation, innovations in scientific equipment, advances in technology,
and programs that encourage hands-on and interdisciplinary learning have
provided new tools with which to stimulate learning and provide a broader
range of experience." What follows is a small slice of what's going
on inside the College's classrooms.
French professor Margaret Switten,
who specializes in medieval language and poetry, and Robert Eisenstein,
director of the Five College Early Music Program, are using technology
to bring the medieval experience into the classroom. A grant from
the National Endowment for the Humanities Teaching with Technology Program
is enabling Switten and Eisenstein to develop an innovative interdisciplinary
CD-ROM that approaches the medieval lyric as a fusion of music and words.
The CD incorporates audio and text materials from manuscripts dating from
the late eleventh to the fourteenth centuries.
the CD will disseminate a variety of medieval source materials not readily
available in this country, coupled with explanatory information that makes
the materials accessible to teachers and students. The program is currently
being tested around the country and has been used in two Mount Holyoke
courses so far.
Sridharan '00 has been sharing a lab with Sean Decatur, assistant
professor of chemistry, since her first year at Mount Holyoke and
has immersed herself in independent research in Decatur's area of
specialization--the study of how protein molecules fold. This biological
process is fundamental to life and plays a crucial role in energy
production, metabolism, and the use of DNA information.
her work with Decatur, Sridharan has honed her skills as a scientist
while making valuable contributions to cutting-edge research. She
has also been inspired to pursue a Ph.D. in biophysics at the University
of California, San Francisco, in the fall of 2000.
year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Decatur a prestigious
Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program grant of more
than $400,000, an award that supports exceptionally promising college
and university junior faculty who are committed to the integration
of research and education. This four-year grant, one of several
high-profile grants awarded to Decatur, will provide Mount Holyoke
chemistry students with the opportunity to work with him synthesizing
and purifying proteins and performing spectroscopic measurements.
independent research has enabled me to learn how to think actively
about an interesting problem in biology and to mature as a scientist,"
says Sridharan. The student/faculty relationship is mutually beneficial,
says Decatur. "Students often push research in new and different
directions. They make important intellectual contributions to the
work and help push it forward."
George Cobb, a leader in the
area of statistics reform who has chaired the Mathematical Association
and American Statistical Association's Joint Committee on Undergraduate
Statistics since 1991, believes that statistics is "almost impossible
to learn unless you get your hands dirty."
140, taught by Cobb and offered for the first time in fall 1999, made
use of an innovative hands-on curriculum that Cobb and two colleagues
designed and are outlining in Statistics in Action, a textbook to be published
in 2001. Cobb, Robert L. Rooke Professor of Statistics, uses a variety
of unusual activities to teach students the basics of statistical methods,
ranging from experimental design to regression analysis.
In one exercise,
a catapult was used to launch gummy bears in the air, exploring such principles
as sources of variability, the value of protocol to keep things constant,
and the use of randomization to protect against bias. During data collection,
students contended with catapult misfires and the most effective way to
record them. Cobb maintains that when students have a hand in creating
data, they are more interested in analyzing them and learn from being
part of the production process.
Sarah H. McKinney '00, who was initially apprehensive about Statistics
140 because math is not her strength, did fine. Says McKinney, "The
experiments not only made the class more entertaining, but they were a
useful way to illustrate basic statistics."
TO BASIC AND MAGICAL ELEMENTS
Emily Monosson, visiting assistant
professor at Mount Holyoke's Center for Environmental Literacy, has designed
a new multidisciplinary course to explore water--from humans' needs to
the importance of water in ecosystems ranging from aquatic to desert.
The class will look at the historical role of water in driving human settlement,
exploration, and development, which will lead into an examination of how
humans have portrayed water through art and literature. Finally, the group
will turn to the College's local watershed--the Connecticut River, examining
it through an ecological, historical, artistic, and personal lens.
lens is providing new ways of looking at ancient history. Using the Web,
students in lecturer Megan Williams's spring-semester religion class,
Magic and Astrology in Greco-Roman Religion, pursued answers to questions
such as Who were the worshippers of Mithras? What spells did the Greeks
and Romans cast to lure lovers? Why was it once forbidden by law to divine
the horoscopes of emperors? The class centered around the ancients' most
private spiritual preoccupations and practices—those that occurred on
rooftops and in graveyards. A major component of the course was the creation
of a class Web site, for which students researched topics, ranging from
the study of horoscopes in Greek antiquity to the ancient magician's working
library, and scanned visual imagery, such as ancient art, coins, and drawings.
Visit the site here.
Mount Holyoke classes are not only extending beyond the College's classrooms
via the Web, but are also expanding outdoors xinto the campus landscape.
Under the auspices of the Center for Environmental Literacy (CEL), students
and faculty are inventorying habitats and animal and plant life on campus.
As a first step in this process, Peter Houlihan, CEL program coordinator,
and students spent the spring surveying and certifying campus vernal pools,
which provide a spring home to a wide variety of wildlife species--from
frogs to newts. Research projects and courses that utilize the campus
environment are already being undertaken, but will increase once the survey
is complete. Using the campus wetlands as her laboratory, Katherine K.
Thorington '00 recently completed an eighteen-month study of pollination
and fruiting success in the Eastern skunk cabbage, studying 137 reproductively
active plants in two campus sites.
THE NEXT GENERATION OF INNOVATIVE THINKERS
Mount Holyoke professors are involved in innovative classrooms on campus
as well as off--and with students as young as age six. Philosophy professor
Thomas Wartenberg is using Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books to encourage
first-graders to ask big questions about subjects ranging from the nature
of friendship to the definition of reality. Working with University of
Massachusetts philosophy professor Gareth Matthews and teacher Mary Cowhey
during the last school year, Wartenberg used an innovative curriculum
that the three designed to promote discussion and higher-order questioning
among a group of first-graders at the Jackson Street School in Northampton.
in Cowhey's class formed the Philosophers Book Club and met with Wartenberg
for class discussions. The lessons seem to be paying off. Not only have
students enjoyed discussing such traditional philosophic questions as
"How do you know that you are not dreaming now?," but Cowhey
has noticed that the young "philosophers" are now more likely
to take positions and back them up, to press for evidence, and to ask
questions--no matter what they are studying. Wartenberg is considering
involving Mount Holyoke students in the project through the College's
Community-Based Learning Program.
CLASSROOM: FROM CABBAGES TO KINGS
Medieval courts on computer, the aroma of skunk cabbages, cells dividing
on video, proteins undergoing synthesis, and spring peepers singing--these
are but a few of the sights and sounds in Mount Holyoke classrooms at
the dawn of the twenty-first century. To see more, there's no need to
get a course catalogue--just visit the
registrar's Web site.