Hour: Jennings stresses class participation, challenge
HAI ANH VU, STAFF WRITER
At the first Common Hour of the semester, the Bowdoin
community revived its collective spirit at Pickard Theater, where Assistant
Professor of Education Nancy Jennings spoke.
The seats were filled with faculty and staff members
and students, who were eager to hear the speech of the Karofsky prize-winner,
one of the most popular professors at Bowdoin.
Her talk, entitled "Ice fishing and engagement: Some
lessons from the classroom," dealt mainly with the important elements
of effective classroom learning that should be embodied in the Bowdoin
Jennings said that some of the most important things
that influence a learning experience are trust and spending time with
Having trust and being able to work with other people,
according to Jennings, generates enormous productivity and stimulation,
since learners have the confidence to question and be challenged without
being demeaned or thought inferior.
This theory comes from her own experience in working
with colleagues in Minnesota when she was a school teacher. Jennings shared
her stories of how she learned immensely from talking with her colleagues
about subjects ranging from ice fishing to Buddhism. She concluded that
this effect was brought about by their confidence and devotion of time
and effort to working together.
The second issue Jennings spoke of was the students'
willingness to distinguish themselves and take up roles, which does not
usually happen in class.
Jennings also pointed out the crucial target of being
in a classroom: maintaining the intellectual engagement that goes beyond
the completion of a task-the willingness to challenge, to confront, and
to defend an idea.
Having taught at Bowdoin for almost six years, she expressed
her concern about the authority that students should give themselves to
speak up in class. She urged more participation in class discussions so
that learning goes beyond the completion of a task and a desire to live
up to certain academic expectations.
Jennings also expressed the need to embrace conflicts
and challenge opposing ideas, which she does not believe is readily observable
in the Bowdoin community.
She said, "We need more 'I disagree'- more real arguments
instead of students backing off for fear of exclusivity in class."
To solve this problem, Jennings proposed that students
should take the risk to speak up and defend their arguments during class
As for faculty members, it is essential that they nurture
inclusiveness to encourage students as they make the effort to speak up.
The last part of Common Hour was dedicated to a discussion
on how to improve class participation at Bowdoin.
Coordinator of Multicultural Student Programs Wil Smith
'00 responded to the question by pointing out the homogeneity of expectations
that exist in the Bowdoin academic environment.
"All students," Smith said, "have different academic
backgrounds, and thus different ways to view an issue."
This variety would be very useful if all students tried
to bring up their own perspectives, whether sociological, economic, political,
or educational. Smith then asked all students to take up the initiative
and be confident to bring up their experiences to their peers.
Another faculty member also stated a problem that she
saw constantly on campus.
Students, when choosing classes and coming to class,
stick to their close friends instead of going out to try new things and
meet new people by themselves.
This is a perpetual phenomenon that hinders students
to open up-to face the real conflict needed to stimulate intellectual
Jennings graduated from Macalester College and earned
her Ph.D. at Michigan State University.
Her work has appeared in numerous education journals
including Journal of Education Policy, Teachers College Record,
and Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
Her most recent work has focused on issues in rural
Jennings is also the author of the book Interpreting
Policy in Real Classrooms. She has been honored by members of the
senior class as a teacher and a role model, and was selected to give the
annual Karofsky Encore Lecture, sponsored by the Karofsky Family Fund.
Nancy Jennings expressed the importance of class participation in last
week's Common Hour. (Arnd Seibert/Bowdoin Orient)