The Living Jerusalem course was one of the most unique and interesting courses I have taken so far at Indiana University. I took this course because I thoroughly enjoyed your (Professor Horowitz) Human Rights class last semester. In addition, I wanted to learn about Israel, Jerusalem, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. By nature I am Jewish, but have never considered myself religious. While my family celebrates holidays such as Hanukkah and Passover, I have never attended services or engaged in the “religious” aspect of Judaism. I think this class did a great job of teaching me the background of the historical roots of Jerusalem and made me feel more acquainted with my own culture. I’m going to start this evaluation by discussing all the parts of the course that I found interesting and/or exciting (in no particular order), and finishing with the components of the course that I think could be altered. Furthermore, I will include various recommendations for how I think the course can be improved in the future.
First of all, I think the reading responses for each class are a crucial component of the class. They serve to keep the students engaged each and every day, and let us express our thoughts. There were many readings where I thought to myself, “how am I going to write about this? What connections can I make? I’m so confused.” However, the responses challenged me to try my best and come up with something…anything. I found myself thinking deeply about topics I had never before considered. For example, for one response we were asked to give our views/position on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. I didn’t have one-so I thought. After critically thinking about the issue and conducting outside research, I found that I could develop an opinion about a topic I knew nothing about just ten minutes before.
Another aspect of the course I am a proponent of were the class discussions we held near the end of the semester. I think it was a great idea to discuss our blogs rather than comment on them. The entire semester I was hesitant to comment on classmates’ blogs. I was afraid of being judged or being ‘wrong.’ However, as soon as people started opening up and discussing their blogs (as well as others’) I felt more comfortable. I would recommend that throughout the semester there be more class periods dedicated solely to discussion between the students. Each discussion I got more and more comfortable listening, questioning, and evaluating others’ opinions. Furthermore, I learn far more about the material, as well as my fellow classmates by discussing our thoughts (vs. commenting on their blog posts). They bring up points I never would have considered myself.
One of my favorite elements of the course was my classmates. I’ve been a part of many classes where I never really get to know anyone else in the class. In fact, I’ve had classes where I never had the opportunity to get to know anybody’s name. We just show up to class, take notes on a dull PowerPoint, and then regurgitate six weeks worth of material back onto a piece of paper. This class was different. The structure of the course allowed me to get to know the other students in the class, thus giving me a further appreciation for Living Jerusalem. Also, I don’t think I’ve been part of a course where the students were so engaged and enthusiastic about what they’re learning. I was really impressed with the level of knowledge my classmates possessed in regards to the issues we discussed. Although I didn’t know about many of the topics we talked about throughout the semester, I was still able to learn because of the caliber of the students in the class.
Yet another part of the course I enjoyed were the final presentations. When the project was first introduced, I was really excited to hear about the liberty we would have in choosing what we wanted to research. The first thing that popped into my head was “sports,” and I stuck to it. I found it fascinating that sports could help improve the Arab-Israeli conflict. It gave me hope for the conflict. It showed me there are so many ways the conflict can be reduced. I highly recommend keeping the final project as part of the Living Jerusalem course. Just as important were the other presentations. It was an opportunity to see our classmates’ creativity, viewpoints, and passion for various subjects. In addition, the final presentations allow for people to communicate and connect with other individuals. For instance, I learned about the backgrounds of multiple people in my group. I learned why they took this course, and what they were looking to get out of it. While there are many fantastic components of the course, there are also parts I would look to improve for the future.
As I briefly mentioned above, blog commenting created a nuisance for myself. From the very beginning, I felt uncomfortable critiquing others’ work (especially when I didn’t know them). It made me feel as if I was disrespecting their opinions. For some reason, it made me feel a little awkward when I walked into class the next day. They knew my name, they knew what I looked like, and they knew what I had said about their work. Also, seeing that we didn’t discuss our comments in class, I felt they weren’t necessary. If we were to discuss our comments in class, I think I would have put in more time and would have tried to connect on a deeper level. With that being said, I would recommend holding some sort of a “verbal in-class blog comment discussion,” where students could ask questions about what others wrote. On top of this idea, I would make it optional to talk about your blog (after all, classmates can read their blogs online if they wish).
One of the biggest pieces I felt was missing from the course were current events. There were a handful of times where we talked about current news regarding the conflict, but not nearly enough. I think it would be a great idea to start off the day (maybe 10 minutes) discussing any news in regards to Jerusalem, Israel, Palestine, the conflict, etc. History is great, but it doesn’t replace what’s currently going on overseas. I think the discussion of current events serves many purposes. First of all, it makes students more engaged. It makes us feel like we can make a difference, and that we can still influence others to take action. This is one of the reasons I became so engaged with our final projects. The organization I studied (Football 4 Peace) was currently helping bond Arabs and Jews together to help reduce the conflict. It made me want to keep researching and finding out more. I wanted to help!
For each class period, I think it would be a good idea to assign one student to report to the class about any current events pertaining to Jerusalem. This way, not each and every one of us has to attempt to keep up with the conflict on a daily basis. Rather, we can put trust in our classmates to come to class prepared to share their findings. This is a change to the course that would be very simple to implement, wouldn’t alter the structure of the class, and would provide students with the most up to date information regarding the topics we are studying.
The only other part of the course I would advise to be fixed was the constant syllabus changes. While I understand that it’s not easy to plan out every class over a 16-week period, it also caused a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. There were times where I would complete entire reading responses, just to find out that I read the wrong set of articles. I would then have to read a new set of articles and complete an entirely new response. In addition, there was multiple times where I didn’t turn in a response on time because the due dates on the syllabus didn’t match up with what was announced during class. While this is a very minor critique, it would make the course more clear and less frustrating.
Again, I want to reiterate the how great this course was. I would recommend it to anybody who is looking to challenge themselves, likes working with other students, wants to learn a lot, and likes to have fun while doing it. I’m excited to the changes made to the course and where it ends up in the future.