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Mid-Semester Evaluations: What's Working? What Needs Working On?

Anne Dalke's picture

When you return from spring break (by midnight on Mon, Mar. 16), please
post, as a comment here, a mid-semester evaluation of our class on
Ecological Imaginings. What's working--and what needs working on?
(Think about what you might do differently, as well as what might be
done differently in the class as a whole...)


marian.bechtel's picture

I have really loved this class so far - as we said when we were talking about "playfulness" in Harraway's chapters, this class is the closest we really get to academic "playtime." I think the flow of our classes has been really good. In large group discussions, the small class size and energy of the group gets us hearing lots of different voices (this is particularly fun when we do "barometer" exercises), which is really wonderful. Also I've enjoyed when we break into small groups briefly, because it really gives us a chance to delve deeply into small ideas and it allows for "divergent thinking" in many ways, since in small groups we can really take the conversation where we want and I've found that to be really fun and fruitful. I have also really enjoyed the readings we've done so far - I think they've done a good job of poking and prodding our brains and making us ask new questions. I especially enjoyed reading "The Hungry Tide," though I found reading a novel in the midst of writing midterm papers (for this class and others) to be quite a challenge - truthfully I didn't finish the novel before break because I was so crunched for time, but I spent my time over break finishing it and loved it. So maybe one thing for the future that would be helpful is having a tad less reading (however fun it may be!) the week papers are due - I don't know how feasible that is, but just a thought!

On the subject of papers, I've been cruising serendip and glancing at other people's papers, and when I saw Abby's awesome experiment of a "paper," it made me realize one of the things I'm struggling the most with in this class: truly embracing and enacting ecological practices in this academic classroom setting. I would never have thought to completely upset the notion of an academic paper, because as much as we talk about how to be ecological (in academia and otherwise), we still are an academic class and I think deep down that's how I can't help but view the course. I don't know what I'm asking for, but I would love somehow to have an opportunity to put into practice the things we've talked about for flipping the typical structure of an academic course or an academic paper on its head. I think part of me is constantly scared that if I tried to do that on my own in place of a paper or something, I will "take it too far" or "jumble things up too much," and that in the end it would "impact my grade poorly," which I know I shouldn't be feeling because that's not the point of this course, grades are useless in the rest of the world, and none of that is ecological. I guess what I'm looking for is an opportunity TO take it too far or jumble it up too much - something to make me NOT feel that subconcious worry and for a moment to REALLY attempt to be ecological in this class. I know that is all really vague and I honestly don't have a concrete idea for that yet, but I will keep thinking, and if anyone else has any ideas, please chime in!

Purple Finch's picture

This semester I have been surprised by how much I am enjoying this class.  I took this class becuase my mother told me I was a bad writer and that even though she has always pushed the STEM thing on my sisters and me, she and I have both realized that I still need to be a better writer and that is not something that we actively work on in most other classes I have taken.  I think for most of this semester I have been realizing how unimportant my major is.  I think before this semester I thought math thing was the best thing ever and it taught me critical thinking skills and problem solving skills, but what I am realizing is that YOU CAN DO THAT IN ANY TOPIC!!! and I have been surprised by how much thinking I have done in this class thus far!

I wish we had the opportunity to read more novels and less articles.  I really liked reading the Hungry Tide and even though I wasn't the biggest fan of The Lives of Animals, I enjoyed reading it a lot too.  My favorite thing about this class (academically) is how open the papers are.  I enjoy not having to follow a strict question and being able to do exploring on my own.  Having this allows me to take a paper where I am interested and not be consumed by trying to answer a question which (even though I think the point of a paper is to not have a right answer) has a right answer (not sure if that makes complete sense).  At times I find the outside posts/site sits a bit frustrating but I think that is mainly because they are due on a Friday afternoon after I have checked out so to me they feel a bit like an after thought, I think that I would enjoy them more if I planned my time better. 

Overall I feel I have learned a tremendous amout the past seven weeks and my classmates have really helped challenge me to challange me own thinking and think about the ideas they have.  

Celeste Ledesma's picture

I have truly enjoyed being a part of this class so far. I think, in part, that is because Ecological Imaginings is not at all like I expected it to be. When we are discussing readings in class, I don’t typically feel forced to perceive or understand a text in the same way that Anne or other classmates might, but conversation is nonetheless carried out in a way that leaves space for evolving ideas and interpretations, and that is something I really appreciate. I should also note that like being able to refer to the class discussion notes that Anne posts on Serendip before every class. I typically read them over just before class so I can anticipate what we will focus on in discussion and to get my mind in the right place. Although we may not stick to the notes straight from beginning to end because the class is compelled to pursue different subjects of conversation, I think having a guide there is helpful.

I noticed that Maddie mentioned she had found the Friday site sit postings bothersome at times because by Friday afternoon she wanted to be done with work. I have a similar feeling about the Monday postings. Of course, I think they are effective and we should definitely continue to do them. I personally find them tedious because 1) it’s Monday, and 2) we usually have to post about readings and I am honestly a last minute reader, so I’ll be trying to power through a reading just a short while before the posting is due. I know that's something I personally need to work on though.

Overall, I think taking this class has really taught me something about the importance of the class structure and community. Discussing and addressing the cohesiveness of a class community is relevant and effective, I’ve realized.

asomeshwar's picture

I have thoroughly enjoyed this class so far. I was very nervous at the beginning of the semester because the whole set up of the class and the way the discussions worked, was so new to me. I didn't want to "mess up" and "do something wrong," that would in turn "impact my grade." More than that, I was terrified of saying something wrong, but I've learned that although you can have an opinion that may differ greatly from the majority of the class, by saying 'something wrong,' you can only learn more about the subject in debate. 

This class has also reminded me of my love of English. I think I sort of hid it away last semester when I was focused on planning my entire path here and how I was most definitely going to be a Math major while fulfilling all the pre-Med requirements. I forgot how much I enjoyed being able to read, interpret, and listen to how other people have interpreted the same readings. It also made me recognize how much I use the ways I've been taught to analyze papers and readings in my science readings as well.

With regards to the readings, there are some that I really loved, and some that I had some slight issues with. I really loved The Hungry Tide but was not at all as much a fan of The Lives of Animals. For the most part, I've enjoyed (to some extent) most of the smaller readings we've been given because even if I find that the writing itself hasn't appealed to me, the discussions that come out of them are always interesting.

Similar to Marian, the one thing that I know I've struggled with is being able to recognize how far too far is. The first 'paper' I wrote was so different from any paper I've ever submitted to a class that until I read Anne's comments a week later, I was convinced that I had definitely written something entirely different from what was expected. I've found that the vagueness of paper style and topic choice is liberating, but also confusing, because I never know exactly how much to push the boundaries before I've stepped too far.

tajiboye's picture

I can honestly say tht I am really enjoying this class because it is not what I was expecting an English class to be like. I really like the discussion aspect of the class and how everyone is involved and how everyone's participation is encouraged. In discussion classes, I thought I would fear not saying the right answer, but I don't feel that fear in this classroom which could either be a result of me becoming more comfortable with discussing readings or just the nature of how this class, in particular, functions.

With the readings, I think I prefered the first halfquarter readings. They were short, but meaty and left more time for me to reflect on them. With the books, I found myself trying to finish the whole thing, but I wasn't able to draw a conclusion around what I read because it was so lengthy. This was the case with The Hungry Tide, not really with Coetzee. 

I really like the pace of class and how there's not a single wasted moment. There's always something happening. I also really liked the first web event, because I was able to apply it to an experience that I had and create a plan using the readings. The second web-event was a little harder for me. I think it was a little bit of the pressure to come up with my own topic and it was more analytic than the first web event. It was less using the text (like the first web event) as a backup, and more of a reading into it, something that I know I really need to improve on and learn how to do better. 

I like the site sits! I want some variety, but I do understand why we are sitting at the same site.

Overall, I'm really happy I decided to take this course. I've learned not only from the readings, but also, like Celeste described, I have been able to learn alot about how class structure and the community created within it can affect the learning experience.

Abby Sarah's picture

This class has introduced me to a lot of new concepts and ideas, some of which are completely new and some of which do well to explain certain observed but previously unnamed phenomena. Most of all though, I've really enjoyed the freedom that the those ideas and this class brings. In terms of things that have been going well, I do particularly like the online forum part of this class. It's a space to think through ideas without the immediate pressure of sounding coherent in class and provides a space for us to utilize when we're just pondering these ideas on our own. I think that I am also feeling a few of the anxieties that Marian mentioned though, by way of not really knowing when taking a risk to do something unconventional will be productive or not. I was thinking that it might be easier to try a group project/posting/web event, because I think that sometimes it's easier to take that leap when you're taking it with someone else. Especially with regards to the web events, we've all been on our own personal journeys, so it might be neat (and more ecological) to open it up and really try to create something that engages with the ideas we're talking about with someone else. Sometimes the discussion in class is enough, but sometimes it gets a bit lonely sorting through the wide buffet of all these ideas on your own. Similar to what Maddie suggested, I would also maybe like to see more of a balance between text and theory. I struggled a lot on the last web event because although The Hungry Tide was delightfully dense and full of interesting things to examine, I felt like a had slim pickings because we really only had two narratives that we had read directly in this class to apply many different theories that we've read (and while theory can be read as text and I thought about that, narratives are decidedly more fun for the part of me that loves English for the stories).

As far as personal goals, I really want to try and interact with my classmates more, especially online. I tend to get wrapped up in my own thoughts, and I definitely think that being able to read what everyone else has running through their minds has been helpful. For the rest of the semester though, I do want to take that further and try to engage in actual online conversations, instead of just me putting an opinion out there and glanceing at other people's. (The webby posts have certainly started pushing me in that direction.) In terms of my own work, I'm also definitely going try to bringing in other topics that interest me, like some of us have already done, since I tend to see connections to other works I'm reading/watching/performing in/am generally interested in at the moment. I might find the answer to my desire for more texts by actually bringing up texts of my own that I see connections to.

Overall, I'm fairly pleased with the experience so far, and have learned a lot about not only how I tend to think, but other modes of thought that, like Morton told us, begin like a 'virus' to creep in everywhere. 

caleb.eckert's picture

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I too feel like I've flourished in the class in ways that a conventional classroom setting wouldn't allow me to do. I continue feeling that this class has opened up for explorations and movement in ways that classroom settings often shut out. In Paulo Friere's words, the classroom dynamics and our texts feel less like "depository" teaching and more like an interrogative, question-based exploratory one. Our in-class discussions are open and dynamic, though not without enough structure to guide what direction we should head in. Exploring questions without determined answers—very relevant in an ecologically-concerned course—is an undervalued mode of thinking creatively and critically. It's in asking questions about the way things "are" as well as the way things "become" that we are enlivened to change. I can't restate enough how much I appreciate this dynamic and more fluid way of interacting with the ideas we encounter. As it warms up (it'll be pretty warm tomorrow!), I'd love to try getting out of the classroom, having class outside, "field" trips into different areas, anything to get out of what feels like a neat-and-tidy classroom space. Site sits are fantastic ways of reflecting individually, but it's even more seldom that we come together to observe and think about the world in a collective space. The world is not neat, sterile, unchanging, nor tidy—maybe our class-spaces should reflect this? (Our barometer sessions certainly do...)

As others have said before me, I do like the wide range of possibility in our web-events, though I often find myself stuck in a funky limbo between conventional academic paper mode and some stab at something unconventional. I think it's largely up to me to venture into new terrain with my web-events, to do some experimenting with conveying ideas and experiences. At the same time, I have a strong pull to ground the theories and complexities we learn in the classroom in a direct, worldly application that stems beyond academic circles (like extending Haraway to not just theorize about dog training, but actually do it). I think I need to trust physicalized experiences and metaphors (personal or imagined) to illustrate points better and spin stories/make art/create something informed by theoretical explorations.

Persistence's picture

Out of all the classes I've taken so far in Bryn Mawr, this class is one of my favorites. I've never taken an English class at Bryn Mawr before, so it is a nice mix to have in all my STEM classes Ecological Imagination is way less objective than my other classes, so it provides quite a refreshing perspective for me in my education. I truly enjoy how I use what we learn in class and apply it in my other courses, daily conversations and personal life. I loved all the readings that we have read so far. They were all very mentally stimulating.  I’ve learned a lot about myself through the readings assigned, through postings on Serendip, and through our discussions in class. They all have allowed me to challenge my thinking and helped me open up to new ideas.

I love the site sits. I think they’re awesome for us to really get to know our campus and our relations to it. Again, everything in this course is mentally and physically stimulating. I’ve never felt so much excitement going to class before.

I also agree with Celeste and Maddie that the Friday and Monday postings could be a hassle at times. I feel rushed because sometimes I am a last minute reader as well, but they are an effective way for us to keep track of our work.  

I don’t know how I feel about my papers. I liked the first paper I wrote, but I felt a little unprepared for my second paper. Regardless, I forgot what it was like to write a subjective paper. It was nice to be reminded of that.

I love how we looked at photography in the beginning of the course. I wish we could explore different types of medias besides books and readings.


nkechi's picture

For me, this class has bridged unconventional and conventional in a way that is very productive for me. I'm very much invested in the ways that we have engaged with the texts. The day that we took sections and split up to really focus on specific passages and make larger points was really helpful to me. I also love the barometer discussions that we have, I feel vey much engaged in our classroom. Site-Sits are a weird thing. I want to like them a lot, but I don't unless we are also engaging with each other. Geocaching is great, it was the perfect thing to get back energized into being interested in site sitting. I think it'd be really cool to rotate site sits, so we all get to geocache with each other. 

I feel like I am learning a lot in this class, and have semi coherent thoughts about my role in the classroom. But I definitely see myself getting more confident every day. 

Ariel Skye's picture

This semester in ecological imaginings has been an incredibly insightful experience for my personal growth. I came to college with a very set idea of what I wanted to do in life. I wanted to go to graduate school, get my PhD., and then become a tenured professor of Biology. But now, I've realized that there is so much more that I want to do with the environmental movement that is not limited to hard science. I think that this class has been wonderful in introducing me to conversations and narratives about how humans exist in the world, especially in relation to other living things. I've loved the readings we have had so far (especially The Hungry Tide). And I am really enjoying the assignments that we have had. I like how my work is building not only on the conversations I've had with other students in the class but also delving deeper into topics I've explored in the past.

In terms of how I want to give more to the class:
This quarter I want to keep more on top of posting on time. I also hope to become better at listening to other students in the class and really interrogating, challenging, supporting, and/or complicating their ideas (both in online posts and classroom discussions).

In terms of what I want to get out of this class in the final quarter:
I want to move beyond written narratives and look into other ways in which humans try to understand their environment. I would like to explore environmental poetry, music (a la Joni Mitchell), photography (which we explored a little last quarter), and films.

The Unknown's picture

            I think it would be nice if we delved into texts more. I would like to use more quotes and talk more about writing styles and the intentions of the writers. I think all of us, me included should use more of the text to support our assertions. I think it would be interesting if one person had to research the background on the author of the text we read for class that day.

            I would like to listen more and think of more intriguing, stretching questions.

            I have really enjoyed the creative kinds of discussions we’ve been having from fishbowl to locating our opinions. Anne is constantly complicating and questioning our ideas. Sometimes I find myself making broad, obvious statements and Anne pushes me to be more precise and explain myself more clearly. I feel that I come into this class with partly-formed ideas and leave with questions.

            I would like to meet outside more and especially because this is my first year, I would like for our meeting places to be an opportunity for me to explore more of the campus. I think we should challenge each other more and stretch the boundaries of this comfortable class. I appreciate the honesty and openness that people bring to the classroom. In some ways, I appreciate that we tend to agree with each other, because I am excited to learn with people who think in many of the ways I do and question these unequal and damaging systems we are entangled in, but I also want to interrogate my own assumptions and sometimes this is difficult in this setting.

            I appreciate the way the class is structured: first locating ourselves and identities, then exploring the language we use to talk about our surroundings, and then beginning to delve into ecofeminism. I have thoroughly enjoyed researching, creating, and critiquing every one of my web events. Though Anne’s lack of instruction was difficult for me and honestly made me nervous, I have come to appreciate the range of ways I can complete an assignment. The refreshing depth and entangling identities that have been brought out during this class is the reason I show up every day.

            I am frustrated with this overwhelming feeling of hopelessness in our classroom. Instead of seeing the idea of exploring our interconnections and multi-faceted beings as opportunities, people seem to see it as a perpetuating cycle of destruction.

            I would have liked to have been more involved in our larger communities, either working with a no-profit environmental activism group or I would like to visit an energy facility.