Here’s to wishing all classes are like this

Every Wednesday this quarter, members of CHID 250 -- also known as "The Brew" -- came together at a classmate's apartment to write lyrics and perform raps for their self-produced album. Photo by Courtesy of Ivan Mršić

As rays from the sun warm a small classroom on the second floor of Mary Gates Hall, a discussion is heating up just as quickly. Freshman Xhjyl Gossett pokes his head up and voices concern.

“Do you want to make a group that has potential to actually do something or do you want to make a group that fits the grading rubric?” he asks the professor.

Silence overcomes room 284. At the front sits Third Andresen, his head covered by a red Texas Rangers cap with a brim that hovers over thick, black-rimmed Ray Ban eyeglasses. He is a graduate student and the teacher of an incredibly unique and engaging class called “Beats, Bars, Breaks, and Music Videos,” otherwise known as CHID (Comparative History of Ideas) 250.

Andresen reminds the class he wants the group’s music video to be more “conscious,” a core element of a class where students not only learn about the history and impact of hip-hop, but also apply their knowledge to self-produced content. “Conscious means rapping less about money and bitches and hoes, and more about what’s going on in the community,” senior Sabrina Gravlee said.

Being “conscious” is a big deal — after all, what the class churns out on the Internet via social media could impact the possibility of hip-hop education existing in the future at the UW and beyond.

“I think it is balanced,” Chris Rob offers from the other side of the room, gripping an empty Nestea plastic bottle with his right hand. “We went from partying on the rooftop to coming into the classroom.”

“It’s not just conscious in the video, guys,” Gravlee responds from the back. “It’s the lyrics, guys. The lyrics aren’t conscious.”

Finally, after 10 minutes of healthy but at times uncomfortable conversation, teaching assistant John Eklof stands up and lays it down.

“We can’t just show party cuts,” Eklof says. “We need to show the other side of the coin, you feel me?”

“Why didn’t we have this conversation two weeks ago?” senior Jeremy Luby asks.

“We got to move past this, we got to move past this,” Eklof repeats. “There is no point going back now because we have already been editing the first music video. It’s time to move forward.”

I witnessed this exchange a few weeks ago and left extremely impressed with how intense this class was about making decisions as a group. Yet several students I talked with afterward were worried that I’d write something bad about them. “Please don’t make us look bad,” one student pleaded. “I’m seriously embarrassed,” another said.

Sure, maybe that discussion showed a lack of leadership. Maybe it could have been avoided with better planning. But these students spoke their mind, found a productive way to resolve a problem, and, for those 45 minutes, I was reminded of how valuable and enriching a class like this can really be.

You know when you sit in Kane Hall for two sleepy hours and listen to a professor rant on about a subject? Maybe it’s difficult or near-impossible to teach those courses with full-on student involvement, but I sure wish it happened more often.

I took a CHID 250 class two years ago called “Biofutures.” CHID program director Phillip Thurtle was the professor and I still think about the lively and mind-bending discussions we had among ourselves. We debated how scientists manipulate space and time, we tried to figure out the future of life, and we argued over the meaning behind gift-giving. It forced me to think and broadened my perspective of the world, but most importantly it was anchored by students.

Think about the classes you remember and like the most. The content and conversation spurred by professors and fleshed out by students probably forced you to think about certain issues and perhaps changed the way you see things. That’s exactly what CHID classes are designed to do, and it’s the way more classes should be at the UW.

In order to get the most out of his students, Thurtle thinks they need to see how topics are connected to their lives. Once you do that, he says, you can begin asking “these wonderfully interesting scholarly questions,” and really get the learning process going — a process that starts with the student.

“You do it from the center of the students’ interest,” Thurtle said. “You can’t teach unless the student is enthusiastic about what they are learning.”

So it begins with the student. But the way the professor includes him or herself in the classroom conversation is just as important to the way we learn. Oftentimes, you’ll see a one-way street with typical classes: the professor depositing information into the students’ brains, and that’s it.

Yet people like Thurtle and Andresen refuse to teach in this manner.

“I’m learning from them, too, just as much as they are learning from me,” Andresen said just after that intense class discussion. “It’s a give-and-take relationship.”

Andresen seemed uncomfortable at times during the heated debate. Thurtle can relate and says he often feels exposed in front of a 100-person lecture, but in the end, student questioning is imperative to achieve an optimal learning experience.

“If I’m not being questioned by my students, I’m not being challenged to change how I look at the world,” Thurtle said. “And what is learning but being able to change the way you look at the world?”

It’s no doubt that the members of CHID 250 this quarter have learned new ways to think not just about hip-hop, but also about the world as a whole. And the best part about it is they’ve been able to learn how to work as a team and achieve success, whether it’s in the classroom, on a video shoot, or at the recording studio.

“The coolest part of the whole thing is all those people coming together and becoming friends,” Luby said. “It’s not a class anymore. It’s so beyond a class.”

That discussion I observed at Mary Gates 284? That wasn’t your typical class. That was undergraduates finding a creative solution via teamwork and critical thinking. I truly hope that more UW classes are this way in the future.

Reach Social Media Producer Taylor Soper at arts@dailyuw.com.Twitter: @Taylor_Soper

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