The general flexibility of this course made it the most unique course I have taken in my undergraduate education. It allowed for a fluid dialogue and organic knowledge building. This was absolutely necessary in a course such as this which investigates a conflict that is continually changing. The only additions I would like to see to the overall structure of the class is the presentation, in the beginning days of the course, which states the themes and goals of the Living Jerusalem Project. Many times questions such as, “what is the project doing right now?” or “what is the goal of the project?” came up during class discussions. I feel it is important to address these questions from the beginning so that the students understand the history and complexity not only of the relations between Arab-Israeli and the three Abrahamic religions, but also of the Living Jerusalem project itself. Lastly, I believe in the beginning days the students should provide what their short and long term goals are in learning about Arab- Israeli relations and the city of Jerusalem.
The reading material provided to the students in class was informative and relevant to the topics discussed. It often gave me background information to the topic which we discussed as a class or to a video conference we had. The reading which I believe was most important in this class was Karen Armstrong’s book Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths.
Armstrong’s book gave a very detailed description of Jerusalem’s history from the very beginnings to the almost present. This book should be kept as the main text of the course, but the way in which it is used should be re-structured. This book is very dense with lots of valuable dates, names, religions, and transfers of power throughout history. It was more than overwhelming to be expected to read 50, 80, or 100 pages a night. Not solely because of the amount of pages, but mainly because there was so much valuable information on each page.
Armstrong’s book should be spread throughout the entire semester. We went through it so quickly this semester, and once we were finished, we did not revisit it as much as we should have. I think the amount of reading each night should be substantially reduced. The book should be only discussed once a week instead of both days. Dr. Horwitz said she wanted us to get through the material before we moved on to other information and video conferencing, but I believe Armstrong’s book could have been a more useful tool if read in concurrence with the entire semester and used in the video conference discussions as well.
Also, there should be more facilitation from the professor on the material in Armstrong. As said above, the material is very dense and sometimes overwhelming. Three tools would have been very helpful in unwrapping the text; a timeline, a terms list, and a theme list. These tools would be provided by the professor prior to the readings so that the student would have something to work from. This would not only help in the comprehension of the text, but also assistance the class in an academic way to facilitate class discussion.
Blogging is a wonderful tool for this course. It encourages dialogue among the students and provides the cyber world with information we as a class are gathering. Because the blogs are such a vital part of the course it is important that this tool be tweaked to better the use of it in future classes.
First, I believe that the blog should be a reflective tool rather than a pre-discussion space. It is expected that student complete their readings prior to class discussions. I felt that the blogs where used as a ‘check’ on students completing their reading assignment more than a space for thoughts to flow. The blogs should be a space that students go and reflect on the readings and discussion after the class has closed. This will enable the students to not only reflect on the readings, but also on the class discussion and the connections between the two.
Secondly, I believe the blog should be read and added by all. By this I mean that the professor and visiting guests should be able to go on and comment on the blog. I feel that the blogs were lacking with the absences of other academic voices. Lastly, I believe there should be one main class blog where everyone posts there comments of the day. I feel the tool would be more valuable as a stream of consciousness from the entire class and not just on an individual level. I believe this would create more dialogue and discussion in the forum.
Video conferencing was the most unique and important aspect of the course. It really pushed our educational experience in the right direction. We were able to talk to people from all over the world and from all walks of life. All the people in the Living Jerusalem Project are so passionate about what they are doing (academically, socially, and politically). This energy was shared among us all and in turn created a greater cohesion of knowledgeable and inspired individuals.
I would not change much in the formatting of the video conferencing. I would like to see more student peers who could have talked about their personal experiences in Jerusalem. For example, speaking to the founder of the Heartbeat project was one of the most inspiring moments in the course for me. This was because we were able to talk to a peer who talked about his passion for music and how he turned it into something which helps others.
The final projects were also a favorite part of the course for me. I feel it gave students the opportunity to express their personal interests in Jerusalem and share it with others in the class. The great thing was all projects were quite different in their content and form. I would have actually liked to have seen two sets of projects. One asked of us mid-way through the semester which would be half the length and content and then another asked of us at the end identical to the guidelines we had this semester.
I believe that projects such as these give a good opportunity for students to reflect on what they actually know and how they can express it well to others. Having a project mid-semester would help the student gather their thoughts to determine where they are in their study of the topic and where they would like to go for the remainder of the semester.