Saturday, February 11, 2012

My freshmen seminars

AUN has a freshman seminar all new students are required to attend. It gives them a common experience, plus aids in the transition from high school to college. There was some hope originally of having me be one of the teachers, but the econ department has been running thin, so we couldn't spare both me and Dan Barkley who is also teaching it. Maybe next semester.

However, since I do love the idea, they did get me to agree to do a couple lectures - one on how to succeed in college and one on agriculture and food security. I was up this last week.

I had too much fun. For me, the best part was coming up with a parody of Sam Cooke's "What a wonderful world this would be" (Don't know much about history .... that one) to remind them of the tips I had given. I had graphs (I'll upload them later) showing that students who didn't attend class tended to flunk, that students who turned in their homework did well, and so forth.
We talked about note taking, about sitting up near the front, about study habits and scheduling. Though it took some teeth pulling, I finally got two or three of them to respond and ask a question during class. Pleading with the students to do the things that would let them pass was therapeutic too.

The other fun part was when I put a jumble of letters on the screen and asked someone to read it: BDAU12C. That translates as Be de A you wan' to see. It was very fun to see when they got it and I could testify that I had been listening and learning from them too. The concept let me spend a bit talking about acting like a professional and even more importantly as a man or woman of integrity who takes responsibility for their own education.

When I came back for the next lecture Wednesday, the entire front and middle of the classroom - the A seats - were vacant. Everyone had fled to the F seats. Karon Harden, who is in charge of the seminar, cajoled some of them up a bit closer. The agriculture and food security lecture gave me a great chance to introduce some of the things I care deeply about, that brought me to the kind of work I do today, and share some good news about Nigeria. I encouraged them to make a concerted effort to put themselves in the place of the poor and internalize what it means to live on less than $2 a day, and to be mindful of how their actions and choices in markets and homes shape our world. I made use of Hans Rosling's Gapminder data showing global development over the last 200 years, put a plug in for my book and distributed to them another chapter Per and I had done together about nutrition in Africa, as well as FAO and World Bank reports on what's happened around here in the last few years. I also reminded them of some of the academic concepts I shared last time.

Personally, I was concerned that the second lecture wouldn't go over nearly as well as the first (not as much funny, much more academics). I was surprised and delighted to hear the overwhelmingly positive feedback from the other teachers. Some students actually came up to talk to me after, one of them asking where my statistics came from (good question!). Karon said she nearly cried at one point and gave very positive feedback to Pres. Ensign. The school's PR department was in attendance and took very diligent notes they passed on to me for corrections. I'll post a link when it's up.