Twice while attending Dr. Rupa Gordon’s class I got the feeling one gets while going down a very steep roller coaster.
Because in the 70 minutes I spent with Gordon and the 19 students in class last Friday, I witnessed the complete masterpiece that is a liberal arts education. This class offered a case study in the modern value of liberal education.
This was a class full of seniors – enthusiastic, curious learners guided by a teacher on par with my vision of Socrates. Gordon’s perfect Q&A sequence allowed her to ask a question and teach through each student’s response.
Here’s what I learned.
Students prepared for classroom discussion, and they were anxious to do so. There were a couple of hands up ready to respond to every single question Gordon posed. The students’ notebooks revealed as much, as they consulted the articles assigned and their own notes. I’d like to think that the level of preparedness I witnessed is exactly what employers and graduate schools get when they land an Augie grad.
Every single student was engaged. Nobody was hiding in this class. Students moved their desks into a circle for better discussion and eye contact. In fact, I didn’t see a single student glance at a smartphone.
Their curiosity enriched the discussion. Students asked Gordon lots of questions, even some that seemed off topic or unpredictable. They asked questions about compensating subjects of experiments, and why some subjects were tested twice and others three times. One challenged the ethics of experiments described in the reading material. The questions revealed they were not in the class simply to soak it all in. They displayed the type of critical thinking that students educated at a liberal arts college are known for.
A deep mastery of material, serious content knowledge and synthesis were on display. The seniors in this class were clearly at a stage in their academic journey where they are putting all the pieces together. They referenced previous classes that touched on related content and demonstrated well their recall of theory.
These students challenged Gordon and each other and did so fearlessly. While there was quite a bit of head-nodding in agreement throughout the class, there were also moments during which students challenged each other and their professor. This was done respectfully, in the spirit of the best possible discussion, debate and dialog. They gave me confidence that these graduates will be comfortable challenging authority and speaking truth to power.
Gordon’s techniques contributed to such a high-performing class. She assigns a manageable amount of reading for discussion. She also asks students to complete an online form about the reading in advance, which she reviews for misunderstandings to clear up during discussion. She tailors her questions. And, she uses a classroom discussion to double down on some of the special benefits of a liberal arts education. It was clear to me that she was testing recall of content, synthesis of information, and the ability to read critically and communicate clearly.
Now I want to go back and ask about the neuroscience behind the feeling (roller coaster butterflies) I experienced as I witnessed this impressive group of students.
Dr. Rupa Gordon earned her bachelor’s from Purdue University and Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. An assistant professor of psychology, she teaches neuroscience courses, and she is an advocate for interdisciplinary learning and experiential learning. See her here: https://youtu.be/OfRGJ0ntQSk