New tutorials offer expansion of academic focus

New College boasts an “innovative academic program” that provides students with the freedom to explore academia outside the boundaries of the traditional classroom experience. Tutorials offer a unique learning environment in which students effectively create their own classes, from the subjects to the syllabi. Professors sponsor tutorials for academic credit, but topics may range from cricket to dance to gardening.

Gardening Tutorial and Cricket Tutorial take recreational activities and make them into hands-on classes, adding some academic reading and projects into the mix. Students of Cricket Tutorial attend weekly practices, study the sport and write a paper. Gardening Tutorial expands on gardening by providing readings and assignments that explain processes observed in the Caples Garden.

Taking three tutorials, first-year and former Catalyst writer Allya Yourish reflects that there is a stark difference between her highly academic contract last semester and her tutorial-laden schedule for the spring – which includes Tutoring Tutorial, the Sociology of Latin America and Post No Bills Theatre Tutorial.

“I miss academia a little bit,” Yourish said. “That being said, it’s not an easier or lighter workload just because it isn’t all academic.”
While the work involved in a tutorial is significant, it is often much more loosely defined than in a formal classroom and usually consists of open assignments and obligatory meetings, practices or rehearsals. For Post No Bills, a play written and directed by thesis-student Emily Rich, Yourish is portraying a cancer patient, keeping a journal about her experiences and writing a paper about theatrical depictions of cancer patients.

Not all tutorials stray from New College’s strong academic focus. Many are formed for students to research topics one-on-one with a professor or to develop syllabi for future courses.

“The experience is miles away from a normal class,” Yourish said about the Sociology of Latin America Tutorial in which students help create a comprehensive syllabus for Professor of Sociology Sarah Hernandez. “[This week] the assignment is to look into things you’re interested in. It’s a very, very open-ended assignment.”

Tutorials can mix academic learning with applied practice, as is the case with Tutoring Tutorial, which requires field experience and classroom lectures about styles and theories of education. First-year Andrew Blackowiak is participating in a tutorial offered by the Writing Resource Center (WRC) to train to become a Student Writing Assistant (SWA).
“In the second [module], you get to work alongside the SWAs in the WRC and observe how to work with different students,” Blackowiak said. “During all this, you’re presented with different styles of writing, different people, different topics, people from different AOCs.”

Tutoring, SWA and business tutorials all take from different academic
fields and apply them to potential careers, providing skills that a purely liberal arts education might miss.
“I think this tutorial is useful because you’re learning not only how to write well but how to present that and relate that well to other people,” Blackowiak said. “It’s applied learning.”

Often, students form academic tutorials to prepare for their thesis or research niche topics that do not appear in a regular course catalog.

“I’m really interested in Israeli art and I guarantee that 95 percent of the course material I need for that would be tutorials and independent study,” Yourish said. “Just because no one at this school is an expert in contemporary Israeli art doesn’t mean I should be barred from studying it and earning credit. Having it be for credit and having someone hold you accountable can really push you to study, even if it’s something you really love.”

“[Having tutorials] is super beneficial because you can create a class if you are interested in a particular subject and we just don’t offer those classes,” second-year Logan Starnes said. “Like Business Tutorial – we don’t offer business classes, only economics classes, so tutorials are a great way to mix between personal interests and academic goals.”
Students use tutorials to mix their unique interests with academic sub­jects. Starnes created a tutorial by com­bining his interests in literature and restaurants.

“I’d like to own a restaurant at some point after college and I discussed it with my advisor and we came up with
a pseudo-thesis topic,” Starnes said. “I would address the idea of the restau­rant in literature.”

Starnes was influenced by his advisor to pursue this topic as a tuto­rial in preparation for a possible thesis. Starnes’ advisor Professor David Rohr­bacher created a reading list that spans fiction and nonfiction literature featur­ing the restaurant and kitchen. The tu­torial was opened up to other interested students for a discussion-based weekly meeting.

“It’s still a class, but it’s a lot less rigid and more relaxed,” Starnes said.

The experience of creating a syl­labus and reading list is a huge draw for students looking to lead their own education. Thesis-student Emily Eilbert helped create the Gender in Science Tutorial to broach topics concerning gender discrimination in the Natural Sciences. Noticing a problem and then acting on it, Eilbert was able to form this tutorial to promote learning and discussion among peers.

“It works like a tutorial, but it’s also a club,” Eilbert said about the flex­ible nature of the tutorial’s format. “We’re going to post discussion topics and we want drop-ins to come and talk with us.”

Mixing disciplines and class struc­tures, tutorials deviate from the tradi­tionally rigid class format and offer a degree of ease and unconstraint that make almost anything a potential tuto­rial topic.

“Making a tutorial at New College is really easy,” Eilbert said. “If there’s faculty who are interested in it, it’s done.”

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