Classes travel over interim

by Peter Charalambous | 1/5/17 3:00am

by Kate Herrington / The Dartmouth

While most Dartmouth classes finished before the Thanksgiving holiday, a few continued into winter break by traveling abroad so that students could participate in experiential learning. Students embarked to countries like China, South Africa, Poland and India to immerse themselves in the same topics they first encountered in the classroom during the fall term.

While experiential learning has been prevalent at Dartmouth for years, the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning worked with different departments, institutes and centers on campus as well as the President’s office to send these courses abroad. They are designed to provide educational experiences that allow students to immerse themselves in their areas of study by actively engaging in the real-world aspects of their fields. DCAL operates these programs under the College’s Experiential Learning Initiative, which supplies the Center with one million dollars per year to expand experiential learning opportunities. DCAL has been provided this annual budget since the fall of 2015 and has been guaranteed to receive funding for the next five years.

Ashley Kehoe, who serves as DCAL’s associate director for experiential learning, said that Dartmouth has a long tradition of experiential learning. DCAL has focused on creating these new courses in order to expand the opportunities it offers to students and lower barriers to entry for faculty to teach such courses.

Adjunct professor of biology and Geisel School of Medicine professor of surgery and microbiology and immunology Michael Zegans and director of the Dartmouth Institute’s Learning Lab Dawn Carey traveled with the “Biologic Lessons of the Eye” course to visit the Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, India. Offering assistance throughout the trip, Yike Jiang MED ’14 GR ’18, an M.D.-Ph.D student, also accompanied the group.

Aravind operates as the world’s largest eye care service group and has treated tens of millions of patients since its inception in 1976. It also serves as a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for the Prevention of Blindness.

Zegans first traveled to Aravind in 1997 while attending the University of California, San Francisco. Since his first trip, Zegans has visited the facilities multiple times, often bringing Dartmouth graduate students to assist in the work. This class is the first instance of the College sending undergraduates to the hospital.

During the fall term, students learned about the complexities of the eye while also strengthening their group work and presentation skills. Working in groups, students created presentations that they delivered while at Aravind.

The students departed on Nov. 28 and returned on Dec. 8. While in India, the students witnessed surgeries and learned about Aravind’s manufacturing and outreach abilities. They also experienced the challenges and rewards associated with working with international partners. During dinners, the students were able to form more personal connections with the faculty at Aravind by sharing meals at their guest house with doctors and technicians.

Demonstrating the work they completed during the fall term, the students shared their group presentations with their peers and Aravind faculty at a two-day conference. The class also visited cultural landmarks such as temples in India and documented their travels on a Wordpress blog.

Economics professor Elisabeth Curtis, who taught the course “The Transformation of Poland into a Market Economy,” took her class to Poland in order to examine the effect of Poland’s transformation from a central system under Soviet control to a market economy in the modern day.

Curtis is no stranger to experiential learning. For the last eight years, she has moderated the College Fed Challenge, in which students conduct research on montary policy at the Federal Reserve and then present their findings in an academic competition. Her team has succeeded in both regional and national competitions. She also led a class to Poland last year to examine its transitional economy.

This year’s class was sponsored by the Political Economy Project and focused on the issue of Poland’s emigration problem. With issues like Brexit and a transition of power affecting emigration, Poland’s current socioeconomic situation prompted the students’ research. During the fall term, students worked in groups of four to examine topics like the startup ecosystem, education-job mismatch, productivity and domestic innovation and mass emigration influenced by restricted immigration and low wages.

The group departed on Dec. 2 and returned on Dec. 17. Students continued their research in Poland by interviewing more than thirty people. From business executives to professors to Polish emigrants, the students used the information they learned from this information to finalize their work and ultimately present it at the Kraków University of Economics. Over the course of the trip, the students also took language classes and toured both Warsaw and Kraków with their language instructors.

Curtis and her students will present their findings once again on Jan. 9 at a dinner sponsored by the Political Economy Project.

Economics professor Diego Comin’s “Inclusive Growth in China” course traveled to China over break in order to meet and talk with local people to learn how Chinese citizens are adapting to the country’s rapid changes. By meeting with locals, the course reemphasized the importance of people in social science. The group also examined the economic factors driving social issues like inequality in China.

Anthropology professors Jeremy DeSilva and Nathaniel Dominy traveled with their “Experiencing Human Origins and Evolution” class to South Africa. Ellison McNutt, a PhD student, also traveled with the class. During the fall term, 15 students, 14 of whom were female, researched anthropology topics that interested them in order to begin writing a research paper.

The students departed for South Africa on Nov. 28 and returned on Dec. 18. The students spent the first week in Johannesburg and viewed fossils they read about during the fall term. They also traveled to Malapa, a fossil-bearing cave, to work on an excavation site.

On the third day of excavation, the students uncovered the pelvis bone of a female Australopithecus sediba, an early human ancestor. This discovery helped complete some of DeSilva’s research.

During the second week of the trip, the students traveled to the Kalahari to visit members of the Khomani San, an indigenous hunting-gathering group in South Africa. The class conversed with members of the group and learned more about their unique lifestyle and cultural identity.

“The knowledge they had of the landscape is absolutely breathtaking,” DeSilva said.

For the last week of the trip, the students traveled to Cape Town. They witnessed the intersection of history and anthropology by visiting both Pinnacle Point, a location where some of the world’s first jewelry and body adornment has been discovered, as well as Robben Island, a jail for political prisoners like Nelson Mandela.

Over the course of the trip, the students continued that research that they started during the fall term. DeSilva noted that most students were not able to find definite answers for the questions they posed in their research and instead kept answering questions about the topic.

“We want them to experience some degree of failure,” he said.

He elaborated that, ultimately, he wanted his students to experience the same drive and curiosity that motivates researchers in anthropology.

“The thing I learned the most from these students is that experiential learning works,” he said.