Tutorials: A Traditional Setting for Unique Learning

One of the Honors College’s most tried-and-true course offerings are its Tutorials. These one-hour courses are typically topic specific and enroll between two and five students.

From Ancient Board Games to BBQ: Culture, Cuts, and Consumption, Honors tutorials, built around the Oxford-style of teaching and learning, provide students and instructors alike the opportunity to dive deeper into unique topics of interest to them and provide a different lens through which learning can take place.

An overview of three tutorials currently being offered (Spring 2019) demonstrates how innovative, exciting, and still demanding, these courses can be.

“Indiana Jones and the Modern Archeologist: Artifacts in Context”
Dr. Stephanie Kimmey, Assistant Director of the Writing Center

Ever wonder how much of the fascinating life of Indiana Jones is based on truth? Dr. Stephanie Kimmey, Writing Center Assistant Director, gives students a look into the world of archaeology through her tutorial, “Indiana Jones and the Modern Archeologist: Artifacts in Context.  As a professional archaeologist, Kimmey brings a fresh perspective to students who are curious about archeology and its connection to popular culture.

According to Kimmey, her objective for this tutorial is to provide students an in-depth look at the life of an archaeologist, as told by a professional.

“As an archaeologist, the most frequent question I get is, ‘So is it like Indiana Jones?’” Kimmey said. “Those films are such a part of American pop culture that they often act as a reference point for people when they think about archaeology. My goal was to create a class that looks at the life of an archaeologist. Most of the time archaeology isn’t about the major discoveries – it’s about the daily life.”

In addition to studying the life of an archaeologist, Kimmey and her student the process of discovering, interpreting and displaying artifacts, as well as ethical issues like artifact ownership and cultural heritage. She hopes her course will provide students with a deeper understanding of cultures different than their own.

“Through this course, I want my students to be more aware of the choices that go into how we, as Americans, display objects from non-American cultures,” Kimmey said. “If students walk away from the class knowing a little more and being more curious to questions our relationship to the past, then I’ll consider the class a success!”

“Writing about Running”
Pat Okker, Dean of Arts and Science

About seven years ago, Dean of Arts and Science Pat Okker became a runner. She got a coach, began training regularly, and started reading books about running. It didn’t take long for Okker to wonder how she can combine her passion for running with her love for teaching.

“I’ve always thought that helping students improve their writing skills was the most important part of my job as a teacher,” Okker said. “One day it occurred to me that, as a teacher of writing, I had always taught the content that I loved. I thought, ‘what if I taught a subject matter that my students and I both loved?’ That’s how Writing About Running was born.”

Writing About Running is an Honors Tutorial where students read and discuss writings about running, while also working on their own personal essays. However, there is a fun twist to this course: Each person, including Okker, must set a personal running goal to achieve over the course of the semester.

Each week, two students will bring in personal essays for the class to read and critic. While discussing each essay, Okker said she tries to give the same type of feedback to her students that her running coach gave to her.

“In teaching this class, I wanted to adopt some of the techniques I experienced with my own coach,” Okker said. “One of the things he did was give me a lot of immediate feedback without any value or grade attached. In this course, students get a ton of feedback, but there is no discussion ever of a grade. I want them to become better writers, to strengthen their writing voices, and to become much better readers of each other’s work.”

When Okker began developing the course, she said that she was nervous that no one would be interested. However, the first semester that Writing About Running was offered as an Honors Tutorial, more than 20 students applied for the course. Now, Okker teaches this tutorial each semester and considers it her favorite teaching experience.

21st Century Cyborgs: The Promise and Challenges of Neural Implants and Prostheses
David Schulz, Biological Sciences professor

A new tutorial this semester, 21st Century Cyborgs focuses on emerging technology in medical fields, specifically neural implants and prostheses. Led by a Biological Sciences professor David Schulz, students in this tutorial will examine, discuss and debate these new medical trends and their implications.

Nearly one month into this new tutorial, Schulz and his students have begun discussing the nervous system, visiting Schulz’s research lab, and analyzing live neuron activity. As for the rest of the semester, Schulz plans on taking his students to a neuroengineering lab to see how implants and prostheses are made before diving deeper into discussions about these medical developments.

“I want my students to be as struck by how fast all of this medical technology is moving as I am,” Schulz said. “I also want students to appreciate that there are some difficult questions we face as a society now and in the future about the application of such technologies.”

In comparison to a regular course, Schulz noted how Honors Tutorials offer the benefit of flexibility for both the instructor and the students. Because the coursework is uniquely tailored to the interests of the students, Schulz said his students have the freedom to shape

“In a tutorial, we can adjust our focus on the fly,” Schulz said. “If all of the students want to talk about super soldier technology or are entirely focused on sensory devices that can treat blindness or deafness, then we are going to explore those topics in depth. The lack of a rigid a strict syllabus means that we can explore a topic in ways that is more difficult in a non-tutorial course.”