Course Catalog Unveils Cluster Plans


Photo by Bryan Rubin, Photo editor

Associate Dean of the Curriculum David Kamitsuka shows the classroom spaces in StudiOC to faculty members participating in the course cluster program this fall. Four course clusters are available next semester, three of which are exclusive to first-years.

Sydney Allen, Editor-in-Chief

Though many of the course clusters slated for next school year are not currently available in the course catalog, they will still launch this fall. Despite the hiccup in the “soft opening” of the program, as described by Associate Dean of the Curriculum David Kamitsuka, the program will kick off in the Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center’s StudiOC classrooms this September.

The courses will incorporate professors across disciplines from both the College and Conservatory in an effort to “encourage integration of learning across disciplines,” as described in the Strategic Plan. Students will be required to take either all or some of the courses in the cluster, de- pending on respective course requirements.

Faculty involved in next year’s course clusters have chosen themes and drafted their syllabuses, and the classrooms in StudiOC are ready to house the classes. Still, the course clusters remain a mystery to many students due to a lack of accessible information online and sparse communication from the administration. The information deficit has raised concerns about how students will be able to plan for such a complicated scheduling process, as the clusters require students to juggle at least two or three courses with a similar theme.

Despite the choppy start, Kamitsuka says the opening is going according to plan.

“Our major concern was whether or not the StudiOC classrooms would be ready on schedule,” Kamitsuka said, adding that the course clusters are not more explicitly flagged in the catalog because he did not want to create an additional burden for the Registar’s Office, given the cluster proposals were not due until March 10 — shortly before the Fall 2017 course catalogue’s release.

Although Oberlin has attempted similar endeavors in the past, creating learning communities based on coordinated-teaching methods, the course clusters are the first program of its kind at the College.

“There have been a few learning communities in the past, but primarily utilizing team-taught courses,” Kamitsuka said. “StudiOC learning community course clusters involve stand-alone courses that could be taught independently in the future.”

There will be six different learning communities for the 2017–2018 school year, with a total of 16 courses among them, two of which will be debuted next spring. Three of the four courses opening this fall will only be open to first-years, as they are connected to first-year seminars. Because of this, these clusters are not in the current course catalogue. Three exclusively first-year clusters include: Arts and the Overlooked: Activism of Access; Sports, Culture, and Society; and Matters of Fact, Matters of Fiction.

The cluster titled No Art, No Voice? Marginalized Cultures and the Arts of Survival, is open to the greater student body and is comprised of two courses: Indigenous Environmentalism, taught by Environmental Studies Professor Chie Sakakibara and Roma, ‘Gypsies,’ Travelers, taught by Russian and Eastern European Studies Professor Ian MacMillen. While these courses are in the catalogue, it does not explicitly state that they are cluster courses. To register, students must receive faculty consent and apply for both courses individually.

The year will be bookended by Broadway via Berlin: The Political Musical Theater of Kurt Weill and Graphic Accounts: Telling through Pictures.

The cluster Arts and the Overlooked: Activism of Access will be co-led by Professor of German Language and Literatures Elizabeth Hamilton of the College, who will teach a first-year seminar course called Disabilities and Professor of Music Education Jody Kerchner from the Conservatory, who will be teaching Arts Behind Bars.

Although every cluster’s requirements will be different, Arts and the Overlooked will require students to sign up for both courses and could include volunteer activities, such as arts-based programs in the nearby prison.

“This learning community turns the tables on expertise and authority, listening to and learning from the voices of people who speak from first-hand experience,” Hamilton said. “We are planning several shared readings and community-based projects, and we will be thinking hard about effective forms of social justice, activism and advocacy.”

Kerchner explained the perceived benefits of addressing certain issues through a larger, more diverse lens, particularly complex issues like prison justice and re-entry, which will be addressed in her course cluster.
“The intent is for students to make deep connections between the courses,” Kerchner wrote in an email to the Review. “At times, course instructors might attend each other’s course, or there will be planning projects individually, in small groups, and with faculty as related to a larger context. We have been in brainstorming mode in the past weeks. Now, we will need to refine the details of those idea sketches. I am also excited about [having] a course that draws both College and Conservatory students. I envision a dedicated learning community, where each person is both teacher and learner.”

Many of the course clusters intend to end the semester with some type of culminating project, performance or fair. For instance, Hamilton and Kerchner suggested students might be assisting with a November resource fair sponsored by the Lorain County Board of Mental Health that will help people re-entering society after incarceration.

Similarly, the professors behind the Spring 2018 course cluster Broadway via Berlin are already coordinating their courses, which will focus on the life of Kurt Weill through a historical, musical and dramatic lens. The course cluster, helmed by Assistant Musicology Professor James O’Leary, Associate Professor of History Annemarie Sammartino and Associate Professor of Opera Theater Jonathon Field, will climax in a cross-divisional performance of one of Weill’s lesser known Broadway pieces, Love Life.

Because of the performative aspect, this cluster will require students to either audition or interview, a practice foreign to many College students. O’Leary said his original skepticism about the program has been alleviated by the final product, highlighting why he thinks it will be valuable for students.

“I have to admit, I was a little skeptical at first,” O’Leary said. “I was worried that no one would want to sign up, … [that] it would feel like one course that’s taking up three slots … But I don’t think it’s that. I think they are all broad enough that it’s three robust courses with parts that interlock.”