Dr. Swati Rani and Dr. Rob Martinelle Collaborate on Spring 2019 Cross-College Challenge Course: “Learning About Boston & Beyond By Walking It – Exploring One City as a Case Study to Explore Master/Counter Narratives”

If you’ve spent time on campus this semester, you’ve probably heard about the BU Hub. Described as a “university-wide general education program that emphasizes working across disciplines,” the Hub changes the way BU students work toward their undergraduate degree. Rather than taking a specific set of courses to fulfill set general education requirements, students choose courses that fit their individual interests and contribute to their Hub requirements. Each of those courses will contribute to the Hub’s primary goal of developing the six “essential capacities” critical to becoming life-long learners: Philosophical, Aesthetic, and Historical Interpretation; Scientific and Social Inquiry; Quantitative Reasoning; Diversity, Civic Engagement, and Global Citizenship; Communication; and Intellectual Toolkit.

Freshman who arrived at BU in Fall 2018 are the first cohort of undergraduates who will meet the full Hub requirements. But, many juniors and seniors are already taking part in one of the Hub’s signature experiences: the Cross-College Challenge (XCC). Offered as a four-credit elective course, the XCC asks students to work in small, collaborative, interdisciplinary teams to complete a project in response to a significant question or problem posed by faculty leaders.

Two BU Wheelock faculty members contributed to the XCC this Fall: Robert Weintraub (with CAS’s Sam Myers) challenged students to investigate barriers that Boston-area public schools face when seeking to adopt “capstone” projects for middle or high-school students; Nathan Jones (and CGS’s Kate Nash) asked students to develop a set of recommendations that would help the Royall House & Slave Quarters, a museum in Medford that documents the home and circumstances of Massachusetts’ largest slaveholding family, reach new audiences in the Greater Boston area.

This spring, BU Wheelock lecturers Swati Kshama Rani and Rob Martinelle will lead a new XCC section (HUB XC 433 C1) titled Learning About Boston & Beyond By Walking It –Exploring One City as a Case Study to Explore Master/Counter Narratives. Their section of the course asks students to physically explore the city of Boston and to conduct “fieldwork” that examines how our city has both resisted and been complicit in the master narratives that shape how we view themes of democracy and colonization.

When they set out to develop their XCC course, Drs. Rani and Martinelle envisioned creating an academic experience that got students to engage with and explore Boston as a rich case study of politics, protests, and walks. They also sought to make interdisciplinary collaboration, a theme emphasized across all XCC sections, an overt part of the learning they’d lead.

That theme was something Drs. Rani and Martinelle had also observed as members of BU Wheelock’s largest academic department, Teaching & Learning. Echoing our college’s emphasis on interdisciplinary faculty work, departments help organize BU Wheelock’s academic programs while supporting research and teaching that crosses typical academic divisions.

Though they teach within different programs (Dr. Rani teaches in our Elementary Education program, and Dr. Martinelle teaches within our Social Studies Education program), the duo found that their new departmental affiliation created a space within which they could collaboratively build a course that emphasizes their individual areas of expertise.

Describing their XCC course section, Dr. Rani notes that the first half of the course will “focus on learning critical race theory, working on team building in case study problem solving, and engaging with themes of oppression and power in Boston through films and indoor art spaces.” During the second part of the semester, Dr. Rani continues, students will find themselves “literally walking Boston, various trails and neighborhood, and documenting it through a digital medium.” The semester will conclude with a final project that displays how the course endeavor had impacted the students’ social and political identity, with respect to their individual majors.

The admixture of the instructors’ individual expertise is essential to the learning experience in their section of the XCC. Dr. Rani brings an understanding of critical pedagogy; her work as an educator is informed by her study of postcolonial feminist theory, cultural studies, and the sociology of education, and she conducts educational research from a critical interdisciplinary perspective. Dr. Martinelle’s  contributions draw on his experience as a social studies educator and teacher educator, and his research into social studies education and reflective practice.

Their partnership echoes an earlier instance of interdisciplinary collaboration between the two. In Fall 2017, Dr. Rani and Dr. Martinelle began a research-based dialogue about practitioner inquiry, through which they sought ways to better link crucial aspects of the foundational courses they were teaching — Dr. Martinelle’s ED110: Introduction to Education, and Dr. Rani’s SO 210 Confronting Persistent Social Inequalities in American Schools: Educational and Sociological Perspectives and SO 211: Confronting Racial, Cultural, Gender, and Social Identities in Urban Classrooms: Educational and Sociological Perspectives. That dialogue also led the two to collaborate on an interdisciplinary, student-centered research study. (Read our reporting on this work.)

Together, Drs. Rani and Martinelle hope to lead an XCC section that both models and enables collaborative interdisciplinary work in a BU setting. With only a few weeks to go before the close of Spring Registration, and only a few seats left open in their section, they’re eager to start teaching the course they’ve so carefully planned. Juniors and seniors who have an open elective slot in their Spring schedules, and who are interested in experiencing a significant aspect of the BU Hub before they graduate, are encouraged to sign up.