The experience of being a participant observer varied greatly between history 323 and composition 250. The two professors created two distinct learning environments and the student’s level of interaction varied greatly.
In composition 250, Dr. Mangrum creates a learning environment in which the scholars know each other on a first name basis. They are also expected to actively engage in the classroom discussion and ask questions of both the instructor and their peers. This is very different from the academic environment created in Dr. Gulliford’s history 323.
In history 323, National Parks: America’s Best Idea, Dr. Gulliford creates an environment which is similar to reading a great story. His passionate interest in the subject matter and his use of funny antidotes, beautiful pictures, and stories of adventure tend to engage the attention and interest of the scholars. Classroom discussion is not discouraged, but it is definitely not the focus of the class. I personally enjoy the environment created by Dr. Gulliford because, I don’t always feel comfortable participating in class.
The difference between the two classes that stood out most prominently for me was the level on which the students engage with each other. In composition 250, Dr. Mangrum had the scholars spend the first couple class periods doing activities related to learning names. This practice allowed the students to start addressing each other by their first name instead of merely pronouns such as he or she. By personalizing their interactions the scholars gain a deeper respect for their peers.
In history 323, the only students who knew each other were friends prior to this class. No efforts are made within the learning environment to encourage the learning of names or any sort of personalization. In this class, there is a large group of students who were all in Dr. Gulliford’s Public History Scope and Methods class last semester. This group, of which I am a part, all sit together on the right side of the classroom. On the left side of the room, there are smaller groups of scholars who all seem to know each other from social contact outside of the classroom. These various groups have almost no interactions with one another.
The low-level on which the students interact with one another leads to selfish behavior in the classroom. When you lack any kind of personal relationship with your peers, it is easy to dismiss them. The day I acted as a participant observer in Dr. Gulliford’s class other scholars were presenting their first term paper of the semester. Several students seated around me were talking through the presentations, playing on their computers, or simply listening to their iPods. This type of behavior illustrates complete disregard for the scholar presenting their findings.
I was surprised to discover that I prefer the environment created by Dr. Mangrum when it comes to the relationships of respect that he has helped to foster between his students. This revelation surprised me because I cannot stand get to know you games, however I am beginning to understand their importance. I still like the story type of classroom structure created by Dr. Gulliford, but I think that he should spend a short period at the start of the semester introducing the scholars and himself.