Arts & Culture

Creative class: thinking outside the finals box

Some undergraduates find completing a final project more thought-provoking than writing a paper

Staff Writer
Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Battle of Kadesh came alive on the Quiet Green when EGYT 1430: “History of Egypt I” recreated scenes based on course material and research.

Final assignments for some classes, such as ancient battle reenactments and blogs, make Brown’s moniker of “unconventional Ivy” seem well-deserved.

Many undergraduates taking classes that rely on unusual end-of-term endeavors said they prefer completing final projects to taking tests or writing papers, as the experience allows them to explore their course material in a more meaningful way.


Diversifying thinking

Ayano Kondo ’14 recently helped coordinate, choreograph and reenact the Battle of Kadesh with her classmates, an undertaking that accounted for 30 percent of her course grade in EGYT 1430: “History of Egypt I.”

Reenacting the battle “made us learn more about the material because it made us be engaged,” she said. She and her classmates attempted to keep the event’s details accurate to the readings they discussed in class, including the number of participants on each side, the battle techniques employed and the armor and weapons used, she said.

Sophia Blistein ’16 said compiling her final project for AMST 1610A: “American Advertising: History and Consequences” in the fall was much more engaging and intellectually meaningful than writing the two required midterm papers.

“Doing a different kind of final — a project — was good to wrap up a different kind of material,” said Katherine Macpherson ’14, another student in the class.

In class, they studied various visual media, including news advertisements and video clips. For the project, they were asked to create a presentation describing the history of American advertising to an average museum audience, she said.

“Working on a project helped me to retain the information for longer,” Macpherson said, adding that thinking about how to explain complex issues to a young audience took a lot more effort than writing a paper.

“I am very used to writing papers,” she said. Creating a final project “pushed me out of my comfort zone, but I have no complaints,” she added.

The first-year seminar AMST 0150K: “Culture, Communities and Change” also involves a unique structure and final project. Dylan Cole-Kink ’17, one of seven students enrolled, said the first half of the class entailed learning about theories of social action. After becoming more comfortable with the framework, each member of the class worked with an actual organization. For a final grade, they must each write a biographical account of the organization they worked with throughout the semester as a section of a WordPress blog describing the course.

Often, students who read theoretical texts can be skeptical that the ideas are actually implemented — the social action component of the seminar allowed him to see organizations and the ideas in action, Cole-Kink said.

While his class has less traditional academic work, Cole-Kink said, “I see a lot of the content in the class reflected in the fieldwork I do. The whole point of the class is that to understand, you have to be engaged.”

“Reading about ideas in the abstract would be kind of hypocritical,” he added.


Picking on papers?

Susan Smulyan, professor of American studies, said she used to assign take-home exams instead of final projects for AMST 1610A. She changed the final assignment to a project two years ago because the opportunity to collaborate with the Smithsonian Institution arose. She said she focuses on finding assignments that incorporate less writing and more thinking.

“Students get bored of just writing for the professor,” she said, adding that she is always searching for ways to “make more interesting, fun and deep learning.”

Assistant Professor of Archaeology Laurel Bestock said she originally planned the reenactment of the Battle of Kadesh as an experiment for a component of the final grade for EGYT 1430. She said she wondered if students would learn more about ancient Egyptian history and source analysis through a theatrical production.

“Sources aren’t always appropriate to what we want to know,” she said, adding that while reading a variety of sources can give the illusion of a full understanding of an event, some areas can remain obscure.

“The battle project helps students understand this because when you take the records we have and try to restage the battle, you realize how much is actually missing,” she said.

Wendy Ginsberg ’15 is one of ­six students who developed a Group Independent Study Project investigating Bruce Springsteen in 20th-century society.

The group initially planned to complete individual final papers, she said. But she and her peers eventually decided a final multimedia-based project would better describe what they had learned from their discussions.

Because they chose to make a website, “everyone is bringing something different to the project,” said Matthew Hart ’15, another student in the GISP. “A project like this one allows more creativity, and I like it because as a (computer science) major, it’s closer to my skill set.”

Akshaya Avril-Tucker ’15 helped develop a GISP examining different styles of ancient Indian dance. In the class, “we talk about dance, and then we do dance,” she said.

She added that she originally wanted to have only a final paper — she felt that in-depth research for the paper would promote greater understanding of ancient dance forms. “The more research we do to teach each other, the more we learn,” she said. “Then again, when more focused on discussion, you lose embodying what you’re trying to talk about.”

For their final grade, in addition to their final papers, Avril-Tucker and her classmates chose to also choreograph a dance incorporating the styles of the ancient forms they studied to “make the ancient dance language understandable to the modern audience,” she said. “We’re currently grappling with combining the ancient and the new in an aesthetic and topical way.”


Increasing impact

In their recreation of the battle, Kondo and her classmates reached out for volunteers to participate in the battle itself and to help assemble props and costumes.

“They all really enjoyed the experience … and I’ve never had a class project where everyone was working on one thing. It was just so much fun,” Kondo said. “It was more rewarding than having to write another paper.”

Students in the Springsteen GISP also reached out to students not in their class to compile information for their website. When completed, the site will feature their interviews with scholars knowledgeable about Springsteen, as well as data analysis from surveys distributed to his fan base. “I’m excited to see how the fans react” to the website, Ginsberg said.

Avril-Tucker said collaborating to create a final project has been a learning experience.

“It’s easy to feel disconnected from a class when you’re writing a final paper,” she said. Working with peers makes the entire experience of a final assignment more emotional and engaging because others are relying on you, she added. “We’ve gained a huge amount by working together.”

Macpherson said putting together her final project was more applicable to life after college than writing a paper because it required students to convey information to wider audiences.

Smulyan said from an instructor’s perspective, it is important to teach how to write effectively, but not all classes on campus must have that goal.

“I like papers — they’ve had a good run,” she said. “But now I feel they are getting kind of static.”

  • glen broemer

    With either the willfully blind approval or the willful ignorance of the judiciary the right has killed & stolen several of my pets and routinely shoots energy weaponry at me and my pets. Recent harm to animals include: two kittens from a pregnant stray i took in were killed a few months ago. The remaining two, just 9 weeks old, shake their head as government operatives shoot them with energy weaponry. They shot the eye out or removed the eye of a large really good natured stray at the port, hobbled another cat at the port, shooting it with energy weaponry, and routinely kill and leave dead animals in my path. A few years ago one of them threatened ‘we’ll just kill a cat every so often’, in so many words. This has continued despite my calls to the police, the FBI, Congress, and my petitions in court. In the usual case, it appears that the right goes to a judicial crony for a ruling permitting them to harm animals to retaliate against me for my free speech. There’s no serious argument but that they interfered with my personal life and economic options for 3 decades, so their solution to my noting it is to kill animals. Makes perfect sense right? It does if you’re a sociopathic criminal, criminally stupid, and hawkish. Invariably their lies are exposed and the wrongfulness of the harm is clear to everyone, though not until the animals have been maimed or killed. There is really only one solution, and that’s to disempower them politically.

    Typically operating through puppets–including puppets in the judiciary–the right wing has for decades been committing crimes and trying to classify them to cover them up, a move explicitly forbidden by the Code of Federal Regulations. The right has accomplished its political objectives by presenting a fraction of the evidence to judicial officials who, having seen the pattern dozens of times before, could not help but realize that they were being presented with incomplete and inaccurate information.

    If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth, right? the Democrats’ great accomplishment is producing the political equivalent of a Rodney King video, clearly demonstrating the lies of the right, the right Hilary Clinton correctly identified as a vast conspiracy. Confirm by examining Central District of California Cases, 01-4340, 03-9097, 08-5515, 10-5193, US Tax Court 12000-07L –though I think you want to view my US Tax Court Appeal to the 9th Circuit for a good account of their day to day assaults, a few month time slice indicative of a decade of assault, and more 9th Circuit case 11-56043.

  • Galeena Boxomirov

    The Washington Post ran an article a while back re an ongoing argument between NYPD and the FBI… There isn’t any shortage of sting opportunities, given the unending string of lawbreaking in the intelligence community, including their vast corrupt network in Los Angeles and Ventura, stretching into many businesses here, and obviously involving some government employees. I defended a Tax Suit a while back by noting that the entertainment industry had stolen dozens of phrases and ideas from my copyrighted work–many poem titles and lines, and other creative expressions converted directly to film titles. The list of intellectual property violations numbers in the hundreds or thousands, including naming the following from my poems, without my consent or prior knowledge: Vantage Point (2007), Idiocracy (2006), The Aura (Spanish: El Aura) (2005), Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus, Sky High (2005 film), The Perfect Score (2004); The Score, Wake of Death (2004), Torque (2004), You Wish! (2003), (2003), Big Fish ( 2003), The Ring (2002 ), I Am Sam (2001), The Sixth Sense(1999), Beowulf (2007), Gryphon (2007), Stomp the Yard (2007), Made of Honor (2008) Felon (2008), Box Elder (2008) and Fata Morgana (2007) Avatar (2008/2009) Daybreak (2008) Vantage Point (2008). All these words and titles come from Plaintiff’s copyrighted work Tribute Anthology (2007), unmarketed, meaning the information was actually taken directly from my computer or discs. I’ve filed several federal suits, one of which was in litigation for a decade before the community–through extensive battery and fraud–made false accusations and created new issues to prevent a just public condemnation of the community for eviscerating my rights over the course of decades. The worst liars, and the worst of these criminals–they are actually violating criminal codes daily–are on the right. A good thing to note when you’re dealing with the manipulative self-impressed chess player sociopaths in the right wing intelligentsia, never accept the explanation they give you, always go back a step or two in time, and dig a little deeper. They’re invariably lying.

    The FBI would be quite content to use a citizen as bait in FBI stings over the course of a lifetime. There isn’t any shortage of sting opportunities, given the unending string of lawbreaking in the intelligence community, including their vast corrupt network in Los Angeles and Ventura, stretching into many businesses here, and obviously involving some government employees.These parties are all violating RICO , careful lies they believe are legally protected, with an obvious motive to attack an informant. Examine my federal cases, Central District of California Case Numbers, 01-4340, 03-9097, 08-5515, , 10-5193, US Tax Court 12000-07L –though I think you want to view my US Tax Court Appeal to the 9th Circuit for a good account of the day to day assaults, over the course of years.

    The intelligence community has framed me and given fraudulent psych profiles to the judiciary over the course of decades 2) the entertainment industry knew it, and quietly reaped the benefits of my creativity, fraudulently sold by the government (something like restitution or illegally seized property), and in fact colluded with the federal government, RICO 3) government and industry have killed my pets and physically attacked me for a decade in an effort to slow my investigation, and to intimidate, RICO II violation 4) government inspectors and FBI–those who were not complicitous, anyway– have ruthlessly used me in stings against the community and industry, in many cases ensuring i would be harmed by putting me in harm’s way against known, repeat offenders–often, I believe, as their own retaliation against me, RICO III 5) all of the above have curtailed my other options and interfered with my relationships in an effort to further their own schemes 6) i’ve lost a vast amount of intellectual property. my closest relationships, including a few engagements, were destroyed by the manipulations of the above individuals. i haven’t been truly free a day in my entire adult life, either manipulation of my options or direct interference with my cognition, usually both..7) some in the judiciary knew, and some should have known, that the allegations against me were contrived and fraudulent, and some have participated in harming me 8) while there is little political support for prosecuting criminal actions that involve half of government, two presidents, Obama and to an extent Clinton, tried to do what is right, right a very corrupt situation. you don’t need to be a genius to figure the politics involved, the problems they’ve faced so doing.9) you probably won’t get a denial of any of this if you ask US Senators, and can in fact find letters of support from them as exhibits in my case filings. 10) yet the press has not covered this because? 11) the right has been physically attacking me or harming my pets in connection with every public criticism i’ve made. These parties are all engaged in RICO conduct, careful lies they believe are legally protected, with an obvious motive to attack an informant. Examine my federal cases, Central District of California Case Numbers, 01-4340, 03-9097, 08-5515, , 10-5193, US Tax Court 12000-07L –though I think you want to view my US Tax Court Appeal to the 9th Circuit for a good account of the day to day assaults, over the course of years. Those in government who support this sort of llegal persecution are invariably lying. Invariably–and that’s from someone who spent a decade documenting four decades of lies.