“Exploring Space” to Pilot New, Collaborative Course Structure

Pursuant to the Honors College pillar Community and Global Experiences, we are always seeking ways to provide intercultural experiences for our students. A new course set to launch this summer meets that need with a new twist on study away programs.

The course, titled “Exploring Space,” is a cooperative endeavor between the instructor and the students, enabling participants to create their own path to studying the importance of a place or space. Dr. Natasha Duncan, associate dean for international education and affairs, spearheaded the development of the course, with support from Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellow Dr. Nathan Swanson, a cultural geographer. She said this course was developed as an opportunity for students who might not be able to engage in study away programs.

“For some students, financial hurdles, immigration status, visa challenges, familial obligations, and/or conflicts with other professional development prospects make participating in faculty-led study away programs challenging,” she said. “We wanted to create more opportunities for students to attain the learning outcomes attached to study away, namely intercultural development. Through the co-created plans students develop with faculty guidance, we believe this goal will be accomplished.”

The idea for the class was inspired by a column in The Washington Post penned by Purdue President Mitch Daniels. The column, titled “Want to study abroad? Check out America,” explored the idea of using the concepts of study abroad programs domestically, looking to Yale’s Grand Strategy program, which offers summer “odysseys” for credit. The Honors College’s study away program offers that in large part, having a variety of both domestic and international offerings available, but this course takes that a step further, allowing students a more active role in the process.

“The exciting thing about a place-based approach,” said the course instructor, Dr. Adam Watkins, “is it can lead to profound new ways of seeing the world around us, as well as our place in it.” He went on to note, “we are very conscious of the current situation with COVID-19, of course. Students do not need to travel to explore the relationship between place and a culture that is different from their own – cultural diversity can be found in our hometowns and neighboring communities. If anything, the current situation offers a unique vantage point from which to investigate the relationship between people, place, and culture. It is an opportunity to tell meaningful stories about this historical moment and the experiences of others within it.”

The first part of the course will involve an initial set of classes that establish fundamental concepts about a place-based approach to culture. Afterward, with guidance from the instructor, students develop their own research agenda, identify secondary research materials, and define their approach for primary research at their chosen spaces. In a combination of independent research and coaching by faculty, students will be equipped to explore intercultural experiences, critical skills for lifelong learning.

The course is piloting this summer, and is currently open for registration. When it asked if Honors College students should expect more courses in this new innovative format, Dr. Duncan replied, “Yes, you can count on it!”