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McPherson College Class on Gender Leaves Requirements up to Students

posted Apr 10, 2012 in ACADEMICS

Stephanie Kiersey, senior, Inman, Kan., finishes chores with her husband, Shane Kiersey. Stephanie is studying gender roles in household chores for the class “Topic in Literature: Man and Woman”.
Students came into the first day of “Topic in Literature: Man and Woman” at McPherson College this spring knowing the subject of the class, but not what would be required.

That... was up to them.

Dr. Mark Malaby, associate professor of education and director of the MC masters of education program, decided to take an unconventional approach to this course – no set assignments or papers, no set grading structure, no attendance policy. Every aspect of the course’s structure was determined and voted upon by the students – completely democratic.

“That alarms people, but it’s never failed,” Dr. Malaby said. “Their innate curiosity kicks in. If they’re learning and engaged, everything falls into place.”

Malaby said embracing the concept meant letting go of some control, but since he began using this method, he’s noticed fewer students “checking out”, better attendance and a more collaborative and positive classroom environment. Best of all, these classes tend to produce a higher level of scholarship than classes he has taught with more traditional methods.

Stephanie Kiersey, senior, Inman, Kan., said that having the class requirements being left up to them was intimidating at first. But she appreciated being able to research something she was interested in; she’ll be looking at case studies of how men and women divide household chores.

“The power inequality between students and teachers is lessened a lot because you have a lot more say,” she said. “I think Mark genuinely wants us to get something meaningful, relevant and useful for our lives.”

In this Topics in Literature class this spring, the students voted on requirements that were actually rather like what a professor might have come up with to begin with: having set assignments, grade levels and deadlines. But that’s OK, Dr. Malaby said, because the students were able to decide and explore the topics in a way that was interesting and relevant to them.

“I gave them the freedom to explore – now that you see how broad the subject of gender is, where is your passion and where is your interest?” he said.

For one student in the class, Miriam Roof, sophomore, Perrysburg, Ohio, that area of interest is the subject of gender and sex in religion. She said the freedom to decide helped her learn better in the course.

“You’re apt to do more work on something you’re interested in,” she said. “I think you have a lot more room to explore a topic if it’s not already set up for you.”

Roof said she hopes to see more classes with this kind of format in the future.

“I think it would be a good trend,” she said. “I think it will work out and have a future.”

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