Learning Experiences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

November 29, 2013 | Uncategorized

Today’s guest blog comes from Allie Gardner, a graduating senior at UW-Madison.

I graduate in four weeks from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My decision to come here was not part of a childhood plan. I knew nothing detailed about the academic programs that I claimed interest in, or the track record of the faculty, especially whether they were known for their teaching or their research. I didn’t know that almost all of my courses would be taught by some brilliant teaching assistants and adjuncts. I did not intend to study Sociology and Educational Policy Studies, or to take longer than four years to do it. I had never heard of the Board of Regents, and certainly didn’t foresee my own participation and attendance at Board meetings. No none in my family has a master’s degree or doctorate, save for my aunt who just finished her master’s in communications at fifty-three years old. But I find myself considering graduate school in the future.

Now I’m trying to figure out how this place impacted me, and specifically, I’m trying to figure out the role played by my classroom experiences. I’m sitting in my student organization’s office thinking about the different courses that challenged me cognitively, politically, and emotionally, or that included material that led me to question my own ideology or challenge those of my peers and superiors. What I remember about the courses, though, is those who taught them and how they taught.  This makes me think of this article by Mike Rose that was recently sent to me by Sara Goldrick-Rab. I do not identify as “working class,” and I am not a first-generation college student, but I work for the Working Class Student Union, a student organization on campus, and I have spent most of my studying and organizing time focusing on college access and affordability, so I read it.

In the article, Rose talks about the things teachers can do to support their Working Class students. He mentions teachers who incorporate demonstrations of how to keep track of appointments, use a textbook, and find referrals to tutoring centers, all of which he summarizes as “making the hidden visible.” In my four and a half years on campus, only one professor (aside from those in Educational Policy Studies) come to mind as an example: Jennifer Higgins. Professor Higgins teachers Genders and Women’s Studies 103, a class I enrolled in this semester, with nearly four hundred of my peers.

I think recognition is a really powerful tool, and so I want to recognize this professor’s work, not as a researcher (though I deeply value her research as well), but as a teacher. Additionally, I want to add to the list of examples provided in Rose’s blog post on how to create opportunities to support Working Class students in your classroom. Professor Higgins incorporates study tips into her lectures beginning with the start of the term, talking about how to use the two textbooks, and describing best practices for note-taking when doing assigned readings. In addition, at least a week before every exam, she takes the time to remind students about the date, location, needed materials and other study tips. She and her teaching assistants provide resources for creating “works cited” pages in the proper format and contact information for the Writing Center, and they use discussion sections to review important information about our written assignments, rather than expecting everyone to have prior experience in writing research papers that require a particular format. She uses lecture time to show students electronic resources that could be used to help with assignments, and demonstrates how to actually use and navigate them. Finally, her syllabus includes a section for campus resources, where she lists the contact information for dozens of student organizations and campus entities that exist to support students, including the Working Class Student Union, In short, I truly appreciate the work of this professor to support working-class students, and I hope that her efforts lead other faculty to follow suit.

In general, I want more of my professors to start posting their own blogs  or guides for their teaching assistants on how they too can provide and serve as resources to their students, particularly those who are less familiar with navigating the ivory tower.




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