Before I begin my evaluation of the class, I want to first speak about my experience. I am very grateful to have been able to take this class. It taught me about the disputed territories and the conflict in a way that it had never been explained to me before. I feel as though I have a much more rounded grasp of the issues at hand than if I did had I only received this information in a political science course. This class has many benefits for students; it gives them the opportunity to develop several skills that other or similar classes do not allow for. Throughout my evaluation I will go into more detail as to how this class helped me develop skill sets. In my evaluation I will be discussing the content, the blogs, day-to-day logistics of the class, the readings, and the final projects.
To begin with, I feel that as a whole, the class is run in a way that complements the material. It gives students the opportunity and freedom to focus in on what they think is important. For instance, I really enjoyed the way that the blogs were our own space. We could speak informally about what interested us or what caught our attention without having to try to satisfy a rubric. It gave me the chance to connect with the readings and video conferences without feeling constrained by what was the ‘right’ thing to discuss. However, that being said, there were points in the class where I could have benefitted from more direction. At the beginning of the class, I thought it was simply a class on the history of Jerusalem. I didn’t even realize we would touch on the conflict aspect of its history until maybe the end, and not even very much. I understand that the project doesn’t want to just tell everything in the first week of what the students will learn, but I was very confused as to what was the Living Jerusalem Project and what it had to do with this class I was taking. Even though the content was on the syllabus and we read the article by Dr. Horowitz, it was still unclear to me what part we playing in the Folklife Festival in Washington D.C., and how it had to do with us. I eventually understood the purpose of the class, but I would prefer that everything be clear from the beginning.
In addition to having the purpose of the class unclear at the beginning, there were times that it would have helped to have Dr. Horowitz lead the discussion. Overall, I love the way the class is constructed. I feel that we benefit most from the small numbers and the way we got to know each of our classmates on a very personal level. A few weeks after the start of the semester, I began feel very comfortable talking with my classmates and engaging in discussion about the course material. Despite this, the beginning of semester it was hard to begin to talk. I felt like there was so much material at the beginning that it was a lot to take in, especially since I had never had an opportunity to study Jerusalem or the conflict in depth. I was lost as to what to focus on or what was important. What makes this class so great- the freedom and independence- also made it difficult at the beginning. To help this problem, I suggest that Dr. Horowitz lead the discussions at the beginning or at least gives us specific questions to focus our blog responses on. The choice of topic of the blogs is wonderful, but only when you feel comfortable. Especially when reading Armstrong, which I will discuss in more detail later, it was a lot to take in and comprehend at one point. I know that part of this class is finding out what each student values and believes is important, but if Dr. Horowitz could have specified what to pay close attention to or what to get us thinking, whether that be guided reading questions or ideas to keep in mind. Even if each discussion had a more specific theme or topic it would have given us more direction and allowed for a more focused discussion where we could benefit the most.
Next, I will discuss course readings and more regarding the way the class is set up. Our primary reading for this class, the Karen Armstrong book, is a wonderful book, and I cannot imagine having taken this class without reading it. She is a wonderful writer who is thought provoking yet writes in a way that a 20-year-old with no background of Jerusalem can easily understand. I think it gives students the most important parts of Jerusalem’s history and people in one source. It would be more confusing if students were given pieces of what Armstrong discussed from many different sources. Although I very much enjoyed the reading, it was very difficult and heavy at some points. This is where the guided reading questions or discussions led by Dr. Horowitz would have been helpful. In addition, during the time we read Armstrong, it would be nice to split up the week. One class could be on Armstrong and a discussion of whatever chapter the class had read, and the other class of the week could be a video conference or clarifying the Armstrong reading through charts, graphs, and more visuals to help us contextualize and better comprehend what was being taught. Included in those days without a video conference it would have been interesting to get more videos and visuals or present day Jerusalem and have something to compare the reading to. There was a lot of reading and it often took me several hours to get through it because I was taking notes and researching and trying to understand what was being said. For this reason, it would be nice to split up the readings over two class meetings instead of one. Because Armstrong’s book doesn’t deal in depth with present day Jerusalem, I think it would not be an issue to begin video conferencing more towards the beginning of the semester. That way students do not get overloaded by history and Armstrong’s book and it gives a little bit of a change of pace. I do understand how important the history of Jerusalem is to understanding the present day, but if there was a video conference that did not throw us off from what we were learning it could be helpful. Also, the days that were not Armstrong readings could also cover present day topics such as music, film, pop culture, or other themes that are not often discussed.
While I loved Armstrong’s book, I also enjoyed the other readings of the class as well. The articles that we had to read were wonderful and great ways to help us engage in discussion. There are some readings that I liked more than other, and some that moved me more than others, but as a whole they were very interesting. My only suggestion on the readings is that we get more biographies from the authors. I usually tried to look up something online, but I often could not find sufficient information on them. If there was a chance we could have had biographies about or from the author it could have helped in better understand the texts they wrote. Along the same lines, people who wrote articles that we also video conferenced with were great- but I was often lost regarding what to ask them, and I think this had something to do with the fact I didn’t know much about their background. A biography would have been helpful in trying to understand more about them and their beliefs, and in turn this would have helped me to construct more provoking questions and a better idea of what to discuss with them. Overall, the readings were a great addition to the Armstrong text.
Also regarding the set-up of the class, the video conferences were great. This is one of the aspects of the class that is unlike any other class I have taken and helps students grow and become more well-rounded students. As previously mentioned, the technical issues were sometimes awkward and difficult to overcome, but it helps students prepare for situations like that in the future. It teaches us that things might not always work out as planned but we have to work with our circumstances and try to make the most of any situation. We are really lucky to have some many intelligent and influential people being able to take the time to video conference with us. I feel very lucky to have been able to speak to these people and hear what they have to say. It reinforced what we were learning. Not to mention, it forces students to try to construct intelligent questions, and it gave us a lot of practice for a future job or even an interview. It is all about asking the right types of questions and how we present ourselves. The video conferences really helped us see the importance of what we are learning in order to connect with the present day issue and understand the very complex and multidimensional conflict at hand.
Also on the topic of technology, the blogs were a great tool to utilize for this class. As I do not consider myself ‘tech-savvy’, it was a challenge at first to have to put up the blog and have this class be so technology based. I was confused at first and didn’t understand why we couldn’t just turn in essays, but then I realized how important they are to the class. It not only forced me to learn more about technology and problem solving, but it is the right setting to share ideas and see what classmates are also discussing. Commenting on other student’s blogs was the difficult part. It was difficult in the fact that we often said the same thing, and I found myself having to scramble to try to think of something intelligent to respond to their blog post. As we mentioned in class, it was easier to look at people’s blogs after the discussion in class when we talked about those particular readings. I thought of things to say after we discussed the readings in class. It would be helpful if we had picked partners or groups of people’s blogs to read at the beginning of the semester so that we could focus on one person and not feel responsible for reading everyone’s and trying to come up with something good to say about their post.
Finally, I will briefly discuss the final projects. I agree completely with the way they are set up and the freedom they give you. My partner and I were able to focus on the aspect of Jerusalem and the conflict that most interested us instead of again having to worry about a rubric or fulfilling a list of requirements. It allowed us to grow more and learn more because it was on our own terms and had to do with the topic of our choice.
Overall, I am extremely grateful for what the class and the members of the project have taught me. I am really glad I got the opportunity to learn from such great people. I gave my above suggestions, but it is important to point out that they are small and minute, and the majority of the class was very beneficial to learning.