A Spotlight on Innovative Teaching
Lecture Explores Using Ethnography to Explore Chester and Oneself
Dr. Bretton Alvaré
Dr. Bretton Alvaré, associate professor of anthropology, uses innovative teaching and experiential learning methods to get students engaged in the Chester community.
Dr. Bretton Alvaré, associate professor of anthropology and Fitz Dixon Innovation in Teaching Award recipient, delivered an engaging President's Lecture on Nov. 14 titled "Encountering Others, Discovering Ourselves: Building Community Through Ethnography."
Alvaré guided the audience through a tour of the evolution of ethnographic inquiry. The study has progressed from "armchair anthropology" of the colonial era, which viewed anthropology as a means of extracting data, to today's best practices of "participatory action research."
Experiential Learning in Chester
In his 100-level cultural anthropology class, Alvaré asks students to write a letter
to themselves about their perceptions of Chester. Often, students cite fear, anxiety
and a lack of experience and understanding when it comes to cultures outside of their
own. Through various Chester field experiences, such as participating in historical
tours, community service, visiting performance spaces and dining at local restaurants,
students are encouraged to reflect on how first-hand experiences alter or reinforce
their initial perspectives.
The end of the field experience focuses on self-reflection and encourages students to simultaneously learn about themselves and the community. Students often admit to their ignorance at the beginning of the course and are surprised with their original perceptions. Most notably, students recognize that all cultural systems are valid and there are no superior or inferior cultures. Fear of cultural differences is often transformed into a position of cultural advocacy, and students begin to recognize the power of difference.
The students' testimonials after the course and course activities reveal these changing mindsets:
"Every single person I had a conversation with was down-to-earth, kind and good-hearted."
"Honestly, I didn't expect this trip to turn out to be what it was for me. It's like it came at the perfect time in my life to teach me things that I needed to know about the life we all live."
"This place makes me think so much differently. I feel bad for people who don't want to explore and see what else is out there. Because I know this trip has had a positive effect on me in the best way it could have."