Vikrant (Viktor) Gautam or Dalton Parker never imagined they would be extorted in the midst of their final exam.
Fortunately, the extortion only cost them a few extra pieces of chocolate and Star Wars stickers and was a scenario built into their epic finale crafted by their instructor Dr. Kristi DiClemente, visiting assistant professor of history at The W.
The idea came to DiClemente after reading an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about experiential final exams.
DiClemente, who is in her first year of teaching at The W, teaches history, world civilization classes, and a course titled Conquest and Exploration in The Medieval World.
She thought the latter class would work well as part of an epic finale given their exploration of European culture through travel.
“During the Middle Ages, people didn’t use maps to travel, but narratives—written down directions about people they would meet along the way,” she explained.
As part of their travels, these individuals would bear gifts for the individuals they met. “Sometimes these rulers would extort them,” DiClemente said--hence the chocolates and stickers.
“I thought how interesting it would be to write a narrative that allowed the students to interact with individuals they meet on campus and lead them to their final destination,” she said.
The first part of their exam started with the following description: “There are two roads that meet outside of our present space. These roads begin within view of our home, but both end a long distance away. In order to travel these roads one must be aware of the dangers that inhabit the vast stretches of road and the various peoples whom one will meet along the way.
“If one begins their journey at this crossroad, one sees large buildings and fabulous gardens. To the west is a large white house (Stovall House on campus), seemingly full of welcome,” the exam further described. “It is here that the author first stopped in her journey toward knowledge. Inside are various people who may be helpful, but are sometimes cunning…”
Gautam, a sophomore majoring in psychology and creative writing, said, “I nearly started crying with excitement on the day of the final.
“I was definitely on the edge of my seat,” he added. “She gave us supplies for our journey and gifts to offer the ‘foreign rulers’ in order to appease them.”
They met four people around campus, and they all had envelopes with information for them. “Some of them gave us the knowledge easily. Others were hard to convince,” Gautam said. “However, because of the travel guide she (DiClemente) made for us, we knew where to go and what gifts to offer to whom.”
Dalton Parker, a junior from Shannon, added, “The final felt a lot like one of the texts we went over- ‘The Pilgrim’s Guide to Santiago de Compostela.’ The Guide was meant to provide pilgrims with safe travel to the Pilgrimage site in Santiago; it details many of the problems along the route, as well as uses the same mode of directions-heavily based on landmarks.”
Parker, who is majoring in history with teacher certification, added the first part of the exam provided context for their classroom discussions. “It’s one thing to read or be told about the inaccuracy of information that travelers had, or how they had to worry about being extorted out of their valuables. It’s quite another to get a small taste of what it was like.
“Having to use the itinerary provided was a challenge for someone used to google maps; dealing with the uncertainty of what and how much someone might ask for was really enlightening. It made me appreciate how a medieval traveler might have felt,” he said.
The students’ final destination took them to The W’s archives, where archivist Derek Webb presented the students with their traditional final exam.
As part of their final exam, the students had to compare their experiences to the medieval travelers, using the sources they read in class, as well as their notes and documents received on their journey. Some of the questions posed to them were ‘How did it feel to wander into the unknown without a map, and only vague guidelines?’ ‘How would it have felt for a medieval traveler?’ ‘How did it feel coming across unknown people who seemed to want to take all of your possessions?’
DiClemente said ultimately her goal was to make the epic finale experience memorable and engaging. Mission accomplished.
Parker said, “The second part of the exam was also helpful because it made certain that we would take what we had learned and try to synthesize and integrate it into what we had learned over the course of the class itself.”
Gautam added, “My biggest takeaway was the difficulty medieval travelers felt when confronted with someone new. We, and by extension, they, had to be wary of dangerous people and say the right things to people, which was hard because we did not know what kind of people we were facing.
“Hands down, best final ever. Don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget about it. Also, one of the best professors on campus.”
In the footsteps of Shakespeare
This innovative approach to teaching is one of the many being used on campus to tie into The W’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which focuses on increasing student engagement and development by encouraging faculty to engage students with APIL (active learning, problem-based learning or inquiry-based learning) methodologies.
This past fall, students enrolled in Nora Corrigan’s Shakespeare course participated in a role-immersion game in which students re-enacted key players in a historical debate, with students performing scenes from Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” and Christopher Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus.”
The students found themselves having to make a case for their play before a commission with hopes of it being performed before The Queen.
Six students were cast in the roles of the Privy Council (Queen Elizabeth’s closest advisers) and the remaining students were divided into two teams, representing two actors from different acting companies, Lord Strange’s Men and the Lord Admiral’s Men.
The first few days were mostly prep work, with actors rehearsing scenes from the plays and Privy Council members drawing up questions to ask the actors about their work. A formal debate between the two companies followed about the merits of their play with the Privy Council free to raise questions and objections.
Corrigan, associate professor of English, said the three-week reacting game was produced by Eric Mallin and Paul Sullivan at the University of Texas.
“I read about the program in the Chronicle of Higher Education and decided it sounded like a great way to increase student engagement and also teach students about the social, religious and political context in which the texts we’re reading were written.”
Students were given a game manual with a set of primary sources from the period, which is like a toolbox. They also were required to go out and do additional research on their own.
Corrigan said, “Since it involves immersing yourself in a different time period and writing/speaking from the perspective of someone who lived in that society, I think it also sparks curiosity about the period in ways that simply reading and discussing the text does not, and cultivating curiosity is the QEP’s main goal.”
Graham Young, a senior theater major from Columbus, played Ned Alleyn, the lead actor and part-owner of a rival theater company, the Lord Admiral’s Men.
Young said, “This gave us a better understanding of how it was during that time, and how hard it was to get a play produced and have it performed before the queen. This also gave us an opportunity to work with English majors and get their take on how they look at Shakespeare.”
Both DiClemente and Corrigan are recipients of 2015 APIL Teaching Innovation grants for faculty members looking to incorporate new teaching methods in the classroom.