Monday, October 02, 2006

Community and classroom

It has recently struck me just how important campus community – in various incarnations – can be to the overall quality of thinking, the actual content of the course, for students. I am really coming to see how much “extra-curricular” activities can inform and enrich curricular activities, at that level.

I’ve had an opportunity to inadvertently conduct a kind of experiment, to use an alarming word. I am teaching my theory class twice – once at the uni’s main campus, and once at the satellite campus. I have about 25 students in the main campus class, and a mere 7 at the satellite. I do essentially the same thing in each class…and what students know to begin with, and get from the material is really different.

The main campus one is the class I’ve been raving about – and it has now officially become the highlight of my week. Full of engaged, challenged/challenging students who us all think - including me.

At the satellite campus, students do the reading and listen attentively and participate and all that good stuff. But there’s not the same kind of spark, and heightened intellectual discussion, as in the other class.

And so I’ve been thinking about the profile of the students in each class. The students at Main are, very many of them, involved in activities on a very politicized campus. Queer groups, film societies, student-run organic cooperative cafes, women’s centres. They live and breathe political-intellectual issues, some of which have a great deal of overlap with the issues we cover in our class. Their life on that campus is like one big salon.

At Satellite, students are largely part-time. They exist in this amorphous realm, with no community, no women’s centres/queer groups/film societies/cafes/salons to speak of. They’re mature students, many of them, returning to school, juggling work and school, crazy-busy with mundane things. No time or space for salon dicsussions. It’s a very different context for being a student.

And I really think the students at Main do so well, and that class is so electric, because of their involvement in non-scholarly activities that really inform and bleed into what we do in the classroom. They’re privileged – even the learning part of university is a richer experience for them because of that campus/activist life, in which they spend time hashing out and experiencing some of what they then cover in class. And it’s too bad, because it seems to me that my students at Satellite, many of whom have such tightly constrained lives, could use a little bit of that richness.


Bardiac said...

Oh, great point!

It's so hard to get that whole community thing happening when you're working 40 hours, commuting, and trying to take classes. But it seems to me that at least the classes provide moments of that sort of stimulation, no?

Sfrajett said...

Interesting--you describe exactly what I noticed about commuter campuses when I taught at some of them. A colleague of mine had a theory that so many students were still living at home, they had no opportunity to reinvent themselves as adults. Others, as you point out, are juggling duties. They seemed apolitical around issues of sexuality, gender, and even race, but I always found that when it came to discussions of class, they found their vocabulary. Then they began to see analogies. Maybe it was because they were outside that comfy student model? Anyway, interesting post.

Hilaire said...

Sfragett, you're right - they do seem to be able to really pull out a class analysis at Satellite, from what I can tell so far.

And yes, Bardiac, you're right - my class at Satellite does feel kinda homey and community-like - and that accomplishes a lot in itself.