Essay: Lessons for Creating an Interdisciplinary Program: Rhetoric Course Design

By Kathleen Vandenberg, Boston Universitybig-ben1

Course Design

Interdisciplinary Rhetoric: Boston University’s January Boston-London Program

Courses: Rhetoric 103 & 104

Spring: RH 103 (Boston Jan. 15 – May 10), The Ancient World through the Enlightenment

  • Topics covered: Emergence of Writing and Literate Cultures, Exposition and Synthesis, Classical Rhetoric, Essayistic Writing, Research Skills, Integrating Sources

Summer: RH 104 (London May 20 – June 27), The Industrial Revolution to the Digital Revolution

  • Topics covered: Rhetorical Analysis, Argumentation, Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking in a Digital Age, Style


These two Rhetoric courses listed below are part of a new interdisciplinary January Boston-London program created by The College of General Studies at Boston University in 2014. The courses were designed to intersect meaningfully with the required Humanities 103 & 104 and Social Sciences 103 &104 courses tailored for the program. The Course Description below, though it focuses on Rhetoric 103 & 104, is meant to offer an introduction to the entire program through the lens of these two courses.

However, those wishing to adopt the framework for the Rhetoric course alone should find that it offers a rich and comprehensive syllabus even independent of its interdisciplinary counterparts or experiential learning component. It takes as its subject matter the history, development, and theorizing of writing and rhetoric and thus contextualizes for students their writing today.

Institutional Context:

Designed to meet the general education requirements of nearly one third of Boston University undergraduates, The College of General Studies promotes interdisciplinary teaching and experiential learning, and values excellence in teaching, small group work, creative thinking, and clear, cogent writing. Curriculum in the January Boston-London Program is based on the belief that at the heart of the Liberal Arts and the Humanities, “is the capacity for interpretation, for making meaning and making sense out of the world around us.”

Replicating the experience of a small liberal arts college in the context of a major research university, the College provides a foundation for the intellectual and scholarly life of students. This dynamic academic community is uniquely composed of teams of 80-100 students who study under 3 professors. Additionally, students have access to fulltime professional advisors who guide them through their educational and career planning. When the College decided to create a January Boston-London Program to start in January 2014, it focused on developing a three-course curriculum that was highly interdisciplinary and involved experiential learning and world travel. Faculty met for a year and one half before the program commenced in order to develop the curriculum.

Then Dean of the College, Linda Wells, along with the Division Chairpersons, decided to divide the courses into six units, each focusing on a “tipping point” in history. In coordination with the Dean, the faculty created an interdisciplinary team-taught curriculum consisting of the following courses: Rhetoric, Social Sciences, and Humanities. Across two semesters, these classes move chronologically through six major “tipping points” starting with the Neolithic Revolution and ending with the Digital Revolution. As befits its interdisciplinary approach, the three course curriculum was unified under one title: Changing Times, Changing Minds: Revolutions in the Ancient World to the Digital World. Students complete the first semester courses between January and May. They, and their professors, then take a week off before resuming with their second semester in London, which they complete in six weeks. Trips and events are linked to the subject matter.

As one of the original seven liberal arts of the classical world, Rhetoric is critically important to the development of students’ critical thinking skills, research abilities, and written and oral eloquence. It works in concert with Humanities and Social Sciences in inviting students to think and write about historic and global questions in ways that are contextualized, informed, and enhanced by travel and real world experiences.

Theoretical Rationale:

The January Boston-London Program was developed to reach students interested in committing to an intense experiential learning program taking place in six months and two countries. The goal of the program is to foster informed and engaged global citizens and lifelong learners who are able to think intelligently and creatively about the challenges of the twenty-first century. The January Boston-London Program is a true interdisciplinary educational experience consisting of innovative, unique, and integrated courses team taught by faculty committed to exploring new boundaries. In every unit, we made the effort to tie the lessons and concerns of the past to issues contemporary and relevant to the students’ lives. We believe that the program will increase rates of student retention and engagement and ensure that students who pass through the program are strong thinkers, excellent writers, and informed and ethical citizens of the world.

The January Boston-London Program developed its curriculum based on research in interdisciplinary learning as well as studies in general education (see Works Consulted below). Surveys of the history of general education have demonstrated that coherence—in the form of interdisciplinary integration among courses—enhances learning, as does experiential learning coupled with reflective writing. The January Boston-London Program’s approach to creating and teaching this program is grounded, theoretically, in George D. Kuh’s 2008 High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter, a work published by the AAC& U. Describing ten “High-Impact Practices” widely tested and shown to increase rates of student retention and engagement (regardless of student background), this work outlines the parameters for successful teaching at the university level. The five practices below, summarized from Kuh’s work, inform the pedagogy of the January Boston-London Program curriculum:

  1. First-Year Seminars and Experiences – Small groups of students see the same faculty regularly in seminar-style classes that emphasize, among other things, critical inquiry, frequent writing, and collaborative learning.
  2. Common Intellectual Experiences – A set of required core courses is integrated and these frequently focus on broad themes, e.g. technology and society, global interdependence.
  3. Learning Communities – Communities encourage interdisciplinary learning and focus on “big questions” that resonate outside the classroom. Students take at least two courses together and work closely with one another and their professors, often exploring common topics or readings.
  4. Writing-Intensive Courses – Writing is emphasized in all courses, and students are encouraged to revise.
  5. Diversity/Global Learning – Courses and programs help students explore different cultures and worldviews and are augmented by experiential learning in the community or through study abroad.

[*The other five practices, internships, capstone projects, collaborative assignments, service learning, and undergraduate research, are encouraged and supported in the students’ sophomore year at CGS].

Course Description & Syllabus:

Unit 1: Cities, Crops, and Gods: The Neolithic Revolution and Monotheism

Social Sciences provides the students with the historical context for Rhetoric’s discussion of how writing—first invented in summer around 3200 BC—profoundly changed how people thought and communicated as well as how they interacted with nature. In Rhetoric, students learn about what Walter Ong calls the “psychodynamics of orality,” and explore how the invention of literacy impacted human connection with the natural world. They read about how oral language was patterned to be retained and transmitted—how the use of mnemonic devices, parataxis, polysyndeton, parallelism, formula, repetition, cliché, epigraph, rhythm, and rhyme shaped oral speech. They see these characteristics and patterns in the Homeric poems, Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament passages they are reading in Humanities, and come to understand why oral stories were so vivid, antagonistic, and dramatic.

Writing (5-7 pages): Students write an expository synthesis that requires academic research. This assignment requires that they become adept at reading closely, extrapolating main arguments, seeing connections between different readings, practicing the skills of definition and exemplification, summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting source material, and integrating this material with signal phrases and correct citations. These papers are highly organized and coherent with a clear thesis.


David Abram “Animism and the Alphabet” in Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers

Jared Diamond: “Farmer Power” and “Apples or Indians” in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Walter Ong “Some Psychodynamics of Orality” in Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the World

James Suzman: “Sympathy for a Desert Dog” in New York Times Online

Connections to Later Units: In Unit 2 students are required to write persuasive speeches they deliver orally. The emphasis, in Unit 1, on how certain syntactic patterns, rhetorical figures (e.g. alliteration, polysyndeton, parallelism), and rhyme ensure that oral speeches are vivid, emphatic, memorable, and persuasive provides them with concrete tools for working on the style of their speeches.

Unit 1 also encourages students to start thinking about what we gain or lose as we move deeper into technology and further from the natural world. Students continue to reflect on these issues in Unit 4, reading Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William T. Vollmann, and Billy Giraldi before composing a thesis-driven essay in which they argue for the ideal balance between access to nature and immersion in technology.

Unit 1 introduces students, through Walter Ong and David Abram, to the idea that literacy has actually changed the way people think, behave, communicate, and interact with one another. In Unit 6 they will consider the effects, if any, of the Digital Revolution on the ways people read, write, think, and remember.

Experiential Learning: Students attend a talk by a guest lecturer from the Natural Sciences. This professor offers them a scientific explanation of the changes occurring in nature as humans move from hunting and gathering to farming.

Students also visit, on their own, the Harvard Peabody Museum to look at relics from the Neolithic Age. As the first part of a three-part Humanities museum assignment, this short interpretive assignment asks them to analyze the display of these pieces.

Unit 2: The Development of Democracy and the Democratic Self: Greeks, Romans, and Social Structure

In Unit 2, Social Sciences introduces students to the birth of democracy and heightens their understanding of the “democratic self.” They learn how the earliest democracies emerged and what their strengths were. They come to understand that because democracy gives a voice to the people, “the people” suddenly have a need and desire to learn how to use their voices in their largely oral cultures in order to influence policy and law. In other words, students see how the advent of democracy creates a need for rhetoric. In Humanities, Social Sciences, and Rhetoric, the students read Aristotle, Cicero, and Plato, with the focus, in Rhetoric, on how classical rhetoric was theorized and practiced. Students are introduced to multiple definitions of rhetoric, consider the possibilities for a “true” rhetoric, examine the role of persuasion in a democracy, learn about the education and responsibilities of the orator in classical times, and consider the power, magic, and dangers of speech. The students’ reading of Euripides’ Medea and Plato’s “The Ion” in Humanities extends their understanding of speech’s persuasive power and “magical” properties. In Rhetoric, studying the patterns of Gorgias’ Encomium, students are able to identify his use of such figures as parallelism, alliteration, polysyndeton, isocolon, assonance, and antithesis as well as the rhythmic phrasing of his syntax, and they are encouraged to think about how they might improve their own writing style. As they write their own 10 minute speeches, they are prompted to think about what will make those speeches memorable and persuasive in the same way that stories were in Homeric times.

Finally, students learn the formal arrangement of a classical rhetorical speech and are introduced to the concepts of ethos, pathos, and logos and the Rhetorical Canons of memory and delivery. They are counseled, as well, to avoid common logical fallacies (e.g. ad populum, post hoc ergo propter hoc, red herring, faulty generalization, either/or).

Writing (6-7 Pages Drafted but Delivered Orally): Students compose speeches that are meant to be delivered in an engaging and persuasive manner. They are given 10 minutes and permitted to use notes/outlines/drafts. They must structure their argument according to the 5-part arrangement specified by ancient Greek rhetoricians. Some time is given over beforehand to watching famous speeches (MLK, Reagan, and Morrison) and to discussing memory and delivery (eye contact, appropriate modulation of tone, effective hand and body movement) in the context of the advice offered in the classical readings and in contemporary Ted Talks.


Cicero “Book 1, Part V 17-23 and Book 1, Parts VIII-XVI, 30-73 in De Oratore Loeb edition

Gorgias “Encomium of Helen” in the Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present

Plato Phaedrus MIT Internet Classics Archive Trans. Jowett

Quintilian Book II, Part XV 1-38, in Institutio Oratoria Loeb edition

Connection to Other Units: Unit 2 picks up Unit 1’s focus on the unique patterns of oral communication, reinforcing what students learned about the powers of sound. Unit 2 also refers back to Unit 1’s concern about literacy estranging humans from nature, something that Abram sees as problematic but Cicero views as advantageous. He asserts that eloquence is “our greatest advantage over brute creation” and believes that eloquence’s highest achievement is a power “strong enough… to gather scattered humanity into one place, or lead it out of its brutish existence in the wilderness up to our present condition of civilization as men and as citizens, or, after the establishment of social communities, to give shape to laws, tribunals, and civic rights.” Unit 2 also anticipates Unit 5 with its focus on propaganda and rhetorical analysis. In that unit students will draw on what they learned about ethos, pathos, and style to analyze the ethicality, effectiveness, and effect of visual rhetoric.

Experiential Learning:Having read, in Social Sciences, Thucydides Pericles’ Funeral Oration, with its focus on its argument for social justice for all, and having studied Aristotle’s The Politics, which defines democracy as a form of government that includes the poor, students visit, on their own, the Museum of African American History to explore (and reflect on in writing) the visions of equality in Boston and the realities of actual lived experience.

In Rhetoric, this unit anticipates the students’ travel to London roughly 10 weeks later. There they can visit Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park to view people deliver speeches orally (and passionately) on a variety of subjects all hours of the day. If they like, they can deliver their own.

Unit 3: Renaissance

In Social Sciences the students learn about modernization, the Reformation and the Renaissance, and in Humanities they are introduced to painting, poetry, art, and architecture produced during this time. They also read Petrarch, Shakespeare, Sidney, and other Elizabethan poets and study Da Vinci’s theories about painting and perspective. Provided a sense of the Renaissance Zeitgeist by their other classes, students are encouraged, in Rhetoric, to consider how it might have led to the birth and popularity of the essay, as conceived by Montaigne. Reacting against the rigidities of scholasticism, Montaigne invented a genre of writing that deemphasized form and encouraged free thinking and radical questioning. Students come to see, through their work in all three courses, how Renaissance Humanism with its emphasis on the study of rhetoric, eloquence, and, of course, study of the humanities, provided the ideal environment for the creation of a genre that challenges authority, entertains doubt, prioritizes the individual voice and observation, and values the human mind.

Students learn the characteristics of the exploratory essay (as conceived by Montaigne and theorized by recent scholars and journalists), and consider the following: How are these characteristics well suited to Renaissance times and how are they well-suited to our own? What kind of writing voice does the essay allow writers to express? What role does the personality of the essayist play in the essay? How is it different in form than classical rhetorical speeches? What are its concerns? What is the relationship between the essay and truth? The essay and received knowledge? What is its form? Length? Style? Is it fiction or nonfiction or a blend? How does an essayist compare with the critic, the scholar, the journalist, the fiction writer?

Writing (5-7 Revised Pages): Students compose an exploratory essay on the subject of their choosing. They are counseled to avoid the certainty of their oral speeches and to balance their voice with the voices of authorities on whatever subject they choose. Some time is spent on how to use academic research to deepen one’s exploration of a subject.


Francis Bacon, “Of Truth,” “Of Innovations,” “Of Youth and Age,” in The Essays Scribner & Sons

Joan Didion “Seacoast of Despair” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Adam Gopnick “Bumping into Mr. Ravioli” in Writing in Response Bedford St. Martin

Michael L. Hall, “The Emergence of the Essay and the Idea of Discovery” in Essays on the Essay: Redefining the Genre U of Georgia P

Carl Klaus, “Essayists on the Essay” in Literary Nonfiction: Theory, Criticism, and Pedagogy Southern Illinois UP

Michel de Montaigne, “Of Prompt or Slow Speech,” “Of Cannibals,” “Of Books,” in Complete Works: Essays, Travel Journal, Letters Everyman Library

David Foster Wallace “Consider the Lobster” in Gourmet Aug 2004

Connection to Other Units: Students continue to explore essayistic writing in Units 4 & 6—the long list of readings in this unit is meant to give them a firm foundation in the genre. In addition, when they begin to learn about the Industrial Revolution and Capitalism and the effects of these on social classes in Humanities and Social Sciences in Unit 4 and Unit 5, they return to Didion’s essay as they travel to Newport, RI and take a servant’s life tour at the mansions Didion critiques.

Experiential Learning: Students attend the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Boston’s Symphony Hall to listen to classical pieces that inform their Humanities discussion “Music in Classical Times, Music in Our Times” (performances have included works by Beethoven, Debussy, and Brahms).

Unit 4: Reason to Revolution: The Enlightenment Gives Birth to Revolution and Romanticism

In Social Sciences students consider how cultural attitudes toward God, authorities, tradition, and humanity changed with the Enlightenment and how the Industrial Revolution transformed cities and deepened the estrangement between nature and civilization. In Humanities the realities of life in the city during the Industrial Revolution are made vivid to students through their reading of Dickens and Gaskell.

Students also learn in both Humanities and Rhetoric about the Romantic era and Transcendentalism and how these challenged conventional ways of thinking about authority, emotion, spontaneity, nature, and the sublime. Reading Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats in Humanities and Locke, Hobbes, Voltaire, and Rousseau in Social Sciences, the students are introduced to, or reacquainted with, writers whose perspectives they are encouraged to inhabit at least temporarily in order to come to meaningful conclusions about the ideal balance between tradition and innovation, reason and emotion, the city and nature, civic life and individual endeavor.

Writing (5-7 Revised Pages): Students continue to work with the essay form, but in this unit, rather than compose an open-ended exploratory essay, as they did in the previous unit, they compose one driven by a thesis in which they make a clear claim. They synthesize the views of the writers they read and then set their voice in conversation alongside these writers in order to persuade readers to adopt their perspective. Their essays explore the tension between city living and nature, between finding the sublime only in the “woods” versus the possibility of “getting lost” and finding it regardless of physical location, between finding knowledge in books or technology versus finding it in their own experiences. Essayistic conventions encourage them to synthesize their personal voices with voices of “authority” and to consider their own experiences vs. received wisdom.


Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar” in Ralph Waldo Emerson: Essays and Lectures Library of America

William Giraldi, “Splendid Visions: A Meditation on the Childhood Sublime,” in Bookforum Spring 2013

Henry David Thoreau, “Where I Lived and What I Lived For” in Walden and “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” Project Gutenberg Literary Archive

William T. Vollmann “Let’s Get Lost” in Artforum Summer 2013

Connections to Other Units: Students are asked to recall the Abram reading from Unit 1. In his article Abram explains how Plato both dismisses the things that nature can teach man and embraces nature as a source of wisdom. Students see this for themselves in Unit 2 when they read Plato’s Phaedrus and see Socrates contend that “trees and open country won’t teach me anything, whereas the men in the city do” and then wander outside the walls of the city for his famous dialogue with the young Phaedrus. The writing assignment also pulls on concerns from Unit 1: How can they explain and synthesize the voices of the past? How do literacy and technology change our relationship to nature? Students must additionally consider what they learned about persuasive speech in Unit 2: How do writers create an ethical, credible, persuasive, and stylistically sophisticated writing voice? As well as Unit 3: What are the conventions of essayistic writing, and how does one conduct academic research? Finally, Unit 4 anticipates the concerns of Unit 6: How does the digital revolution impact how we interact with nature? How does it impact how we read and write?

Experiential Learning: Students study (in both Rhetoric and Humanities) how Romanticism encourages a turn to nature’s beauties, a search for the sublime, and the prioritizing of emotions. They read Thoreau and visit Walden Pond as they contemplate their own stance on the proper balance between nature and civilization.

Students also read Emerson in Rhetoric and learn about how Transcendentalism promotes self-reliance, the embrace of nature, and the good of people. They visit the Old Manse in Concord, Emerson’s (and later Hawthorne’s) former home, and learn how each of these writers developed their attitudes toward nature.

The Industrial Revolution, with its large migration of people to cities, deepens the divide between nature and city, a topic the students began studying in Unit 1 and continued to explore in Unit 3. In both Lowell, Massachusetts and, later, Manchester, England, students tour textile factories, walk alongside working canals, visit mills, and factories, and view former boarding houses as they consider how earlier writers experienced city life in a much different fashion than students do today.

Unit 5: The Century of Change: The Long Nineteenth Century Yields Twentieth – Century Breaks with the Past (in London)

In Social Sciences students learn about how the rise of industrial capitalism led to the formation of new social classes, the West gained dominance across continents, and national rivalries resulted in two world wars. They read Marx and Engels and discuss Nationalism, Fascism, and the Depression. In Humanities they read World War I poems, Eliot, and Woolf. In Rhetoric, students draw on the historical and cultural contexts provided by those courses to understand the background and rhetoric of the memorials and monuments that surround them in the city of London. They consider the following: How do monuments and memorials act rhetorically? Whose version of history do they tell? In what ways might they suggest the validity of one perspective over another? How can their meanings change across time and with changes to their physical locations? How do we “use” monuments and memorials to remember, and what complications arise from this use? Students analyze how the stories we tell ourselves about the past, our nation, our communities, and our heroes are rhetorical, how our history is written in public spaces.

Writing (8-10 Revised Pages): Students chose a monument or memorial in London and conduct a rhetorical analysis of it. This analysis is contextualized with a consideration of the history of memorialization, an overview of the time in which their monument/memorial was created, a history of the monument/memorial’s creation, and a detailed visual description of its current condition.

In the analysis they consider such things as: What messages are suggested by the visual elements (i.e., what do things like the type of material, the scale of the monument, the style of any font, the use/lack of color,  etc., communicate)? In its selection of one reality, from what other aspects of reality is a visitor’s attention deflected? How are aspects of a society’s identity expressed in this monument?


Cecile Alduy, “Philip Gourevitch: Memory is a Disease” Interview in Salon

Patricia Cohen “At Museum on 9/11, Talking Through an Identity Crisis.” In New York Times Online

Allen Greenberg, “Lutyens’s Cenotaph.” In Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

George Orwell “Politics and the English Language.”

Marita Sturken, “The Wall, the Screen, and the Image: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.” In Representations

Sarah Tarlow, “Landscapes of Memory: The Nineteenth-Century Garden Cemetery.” In European Journal of Archaeology

Jay Winter, “War Memorials and the Mourning Process (Excerpt).” In Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History

James E. Young, “The Counter-Monument: Memory against Itself in Germany Today.” In Critical Inquiry

Connections to Other Units: Student draw on what they learned in Unit 2 about the artistic proofs of ethos, pathos, and logos, as well as what they read about the relationship between rhetoric and truth. They employ research skills emphasized in Unit 3 in order to gather historical information about the time period in which their monument and memorial was created and revealed.

Experiential Learning: Students are given links to websites detailing the memorials and monuments in the city and are encouraged to explore them. Some class time is spent walking to nearby monuments, such as the Prince Albert Memorial and the Princess Diana Memorial. All the students go on a sunset tour of the famous Highgate Cemetery, where they learn how various attitudes toward death and the deceased are communicated visually through architecture, sculpture, and symbols. They similarly tour Westminster Abbey, where some of Britain’s most famous figures are entombed and memorialized.

The Social Science course requires them to take a trip to the Imperial War Museum, and the Humanities course arranges for tickets to “War Horse” at the London Theater; these experiences deepen their understanding of the history behind the monuments and memorials they analyze.

Unit 6: The Post-War Maelstrom and the Digital Revolution (in London)

The twentieth and twenty-first centuries were and are marked by rapid and profound changes and challenges in human and civil rights, the arts, and technology. Having begun the year learning about the movement from hunting and gathering to agriculture and cities as well as studying the birth of writing, reading, and rhetoric, the students conclude the year by looking at the more recent past as well as the present, with its ever-changing media of communication. In Humanities students study post-colonialism and feminism and are introduced to cultural studies. In Social Sciences students discuss human rights, poverty, terrorism, and the civil rights moments. In Rhetoric the students, transplanted to a foreign country far from home, friends, and family, consider the following: How is our experience of the mediated world different from the experience of older generations? How do the media we use become extensions of us?  In becoming extensions of us how do they alter us (our memory, our ability to focus, our ability to read and think, and our ability to interact with others face-to-face)? How do digital tools alter our relationship to our physical surroundings and our ability and desire to navigate or engage with the real world?

Writing (8-10 pages): Students write a thesis-driven essay in which they draw on the assigned readings and class discussions of these in order to argue for their own claims about how digital technology may or may not impact us cognitively, socially, or psychologically.


Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” In Atlantic Monthly

Brian Christian, “Mind vs. Machine.” In Atlantic Monthly Online

Stephen Marche, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” In Atlantic Monthly Online

Jane McGonigal, “Be a Gamer, Save the World” In Wall Street Journal Online

Evgeny Morozov, “The Death of the Cyberflaneur” In New York Times Online

Mark Oppenheimer, “Technology is Not Driving Us Apart After All.” In New York Times Magazine

Sarah Prickett, “Sign of the Times: It’s Instagram Envy.” In New York Times Online

Tony Schwartz, “In Praise of Depth.” In New York Times Online

Mitchell Schwarzer, “A Sense of Place, A World of Augmented Reality: Part 1.” In Places Journal

Emily Esfahani Smith, “Life on the Island.” In The New Criterion

Experiential Learning: Students spend six weeks in London, a city completely foreign to many of them. There they must navigate unfamiliar streets, find their way to various museums, and communicate with family and friends back home. They also travel to Paris for two nights—there they visit Versailles and the Louvre as a group and are given free time to explore the city on their own. The assignment in this unit encourages them to reflect on how digital technologies impact how they navigate, experience, and capture (through photograph and video) the city as well as how they communicate their experiences to others near and far.

Connections to Other Units: In Unit 1 students read David Abram and learn about Plato’s distrust of the new skill of writing. Plato fears that writing will make men more forgetful, as they will no longer have to depend on their memories. This ancient concern resurfaces here in Unit 6 as students consider how their reliance on digital technologies may have impacted their capacity for remembering. Also, at this point in the year, students have, due to earlier writing assignments in Units 1-5, become adept at explaining, synthesizing, and analyzing many different kinds of texts as well as generating, organizing, and styling a persuasive argument. They have learned from these earlier units how to do research, and they have come to understand that they are expected to read closely in order to delineate their positions, contextualize their arguments, anticipate and address opposition, substantiate claims, and appreciate the complexity of the issue under debate. All of these skills are employed in the writing of their final paper.

Critical Reflection on Course and Program:


Student Assessment and Evaluation

The first January Boston-London Program was intense, exciting, and successful. Assessment of student learning carried out by the College of General Studies assessment committee found that student work from the program demonstrated strong critical thinking and writing skills. The committee observed that students were notably adept at making productive interdisciplinary connections. Not only do these assessments speak to student engagement, but data on retention rates show that the College retained 95% of the students in the program. These rates were not only higher than retention rates across the University, but also 2% higher than the College’s September Freshmen program of that same academic year.

Course evaluations praised the courses, readings, and professors, and all the professors elected to return for the second round of the program. Travel and experiential learning was embraced by the students who have subsequently remarked on how much these complemented what they were learning in the classroom.

Professorial Collaboration:

Professors’ willingness to compromise, to abandon comprehensive survey and breadth in favor of intersection and integration, allowed students to focus on several time periods, movements, events, and theories from multiple perspectives, which reinforced their understanding of these and encouraged their engagement with the material.

The creation of a 4-columned joint syllabus (a column for each class as well as one for trips and events) shared amongst the professors was extremely helpful for focusing our attention on productive crossover between classes (see Appendix 1).

As well, the creation and maintenance of a Google Drive made the sharing of readings, notes, assignments, and syllabi effortless and prevented the need for endless emails with attachments. Similarly, because students were asked to post assignments to e-portfolios to which we all had access, we were able to see how our students were thinking and writing in all their classes, which provided us with a much fuller sense of who are students were and of what they were capable. It also allowed us to work together to focus on writing issues we saw students having in all three courses.

Professors worked out due dates for major assignments together so that students did not have overlapping due dates for papers and exams, an important consideration in a program that is intense and condensed, especially in the summer.

The entire team adopted one online handbook created by one of the professors. We all referred to this handbook in our assignments, our classes, and our conversations with students. All three courses required the same citation style at the same time (MLA or Chicago), which encouraged students’ familiarity with these.

The Humanities and Social Sciences professors worked with each other’s core texts as well, with each requiring some readings found in the texts for the other course. All three professors communicated with one another about their expectations for student writing, down to the level of grammar and style. All three communicated these expectations to students on writing prompts and in writing feedback, often explicitly referring to advice offered to students by another of their professors.

Proposed Modifications


When in Boston, we determined it was best to avoid scheduling trips on the weekends, and, when possible, to avoid full day trips, which require considerable planning and expense in terms of providing the students with transportation and meals.

Flexibility is important—lousy weather, inept tour guides, museum closings, delayed and disabled buses, and illnesses all need to be anticipated. No one trip should be so critically important to the program that its loss or alteration significantly impacts student learning. Those teaching a similar course or set of courses should make themselves aware, ahead of time, of any rich learning opportunities provided by their locations so that flexibility becomes a strength of the program, as it did for us. (For instance, students who finished the tour of Versailles earlier than they would have liked, due to the demands and cost of the bus transportation, were encouraged to try the reasonably-priced hop-on hop-off sightseeing boats on the Seine.)

Every site visit should be accompanied by a formal assignment. Students got the most out of trips when they were asked, post-travel, to reflect, in structured assignments, on connections between their experiences and course material. They were encouraged to take pictures when permitted, and these were frequently uploaded to their e-portfolios and captioned with 500-word reflective paragraphs drawing on relevant scholarly sources and course material.

Interdisciplinary Connections:

The demands of creating an entirely new program sometimes made it difficult for professors to keep up with readings in all three subjects. Professors committed to spending more time in the future with one another’s course materials, as students commented favorably on instances when professors explicitly referred to one another’s classes, whether in class or on assignments. Considerable time is needed to create such a program (planning started in the summer of 2012 for a program that began in winter 2013); those wishing to create their own should build in sufficient lead time and be willing to meet weekly once the program has begun.

Works Consulted: Articles on Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning

Barisonzi, Judith, and Michael Thorn. “Teaching Revolution: Issues in Interdisciplinary

Education.” College Teaching 51.1 (2003): pp. 5-8.


Davis, James R., 1936-. Interdisciplinary Courses and Team Teaching: New Arrangements for Learning. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1995.

Hamilton, David. “Interdisciplinary Writing.” College English 41.7 (1980): pp. 780,790+795-796. <>.

Holley, Karri A. Understanding Interdisciplinary Challenges and Opportunities in

Higher Education. San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass, 2009.

Interdisciplinarity: Essays from the Literature. Ed. William H. Newell and Association

For Integrative Studies. New York: College Entrance Examination Board, 1998.

Kuh, George D. High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, DC: AAC&U, 2008.

Lattuca, Lisa R., Lois J. Voigt, and Kimberly Q. Fath. “Does Interdisciplinarity Promote Learning? Theoretical Support and Researchable Questions. “The Review of Higher Education 28.1: 23-48.

Lyon, Arabella. “Interdisciplinarity: Giving Up Territory.” College English 54.6 (1992):

  1. 681-693. <>.

Wilhelm Vosskamp. “Crossing of Boundaries: Interdisciplinarity as an Opportunity for Universities in the 1990s.” Issues in Integrative Studies.12 (1994): 43-54.

Woodmansee, Martha. “Toward a Coherent Undergraduate Curriculum: The Role of Team-Taught Interdisciplinary Courses and Programs.”Monatshefte 70.3 (1978): pp. 233-238. <>.

Woods, Charlotte. “Researching and Developing Interdisciplinary Teaching: Towards a Conceptual Framework for Classroom Communication.” Higher Education 54.6 (2007): pp. 853-866. <>.

Honors Course: Preparation and Development.” College Teaching 52.2 (2004): pp. 76-79. <>.

Lyon, Arabella. “Interdisciplinarity: Giving Up Territory.” College English 54.6 (1992): pp. 681-693. <>.

Wilhelm Vosskamp. “Crossing of Boundaries: Interdisciplinarity as an Opportunity for

Universities in the 1990s.” Issues in Integrative Studies.12 (1994): 43-54.

Woodmansee, Martha. “Toward a Coherent Undergraduate Curriculum: The Role of Team-Taught Interdisciplinary Courses and Programs.”Monatshefte 70.3 (1978): pp. 233-238. <>.

Woods, Charlotte. “Researching and Developing Interdisciplinary Teaching: Towards a Conceptual Framework for Classroom Communication.” Higher Education 54.6 2007): pp. 853-866. <>.

Letterman, Margaret R., and Kimberly B. Dugan. “Team Teaching a Cross-Disciplinary Honors Course: Preparation and Development.” College Teaching 52.2 (2004): pp. 76-79. <>.

Lyon, Arabella. “Interdisciplinarity: Giving Up Territory.” College English 54.6 (1992): pp. 681-693. <>.

Wilhelm Vosskamp. “Crossing of Boundaries: Interdisciplinarity as an Opportunity for Universities in the 1990s.” Issues in Integrative Studies.12 (1994): 43-54.

Woodmansee, Martha. “Toward a Coherent Undergraduate Curriculum: The Role of Team-Taught Interdisciplinary Courses and Programs.”Monatshefte 70.3 (1978): pp. 233-238. <>.


Sample Page: January Boston-London Program Combined Syllabus 2014

Humanities Social Science Rhetoric Experiential Learning
Mar 17-21 Sidney, “An Apology for Poetry” Modernization, Ch. 3 “Europe in the Medieval Era (19-29) and Ch. 4, “The Late Middle Ages” (30-39) Montaigne, selected essays
Petrarch Magna Carta Michael Hall, “The Emergence of the Essay and the Idea of Discovery”
Shakespeare sonnets Herlihy & Cohn, “The New Economic and Demographic System” Bacon, selected essays
Poems by Wyatt, et al. Wampole, “The Essayification of Everything”
Gopnik, “Bumping into Mr. Ravioli” BSO- All Beethoven concert
Mar 24-28 Guest Lecture, Sally Sommers Smith (Natural Sciences) on science and the arts Modernization, ch. 5, “The Italian Renaissance (40-49). Klaus, “Essayists on the Essay”
Da Vinci, from “Precepts of the Painter” Sanders, “The Singular First Person”
Kleiner, “The Early Renaissance in Europe” and “High Renaissance and Mannerism in Europe” Erasmus, The Complaint of Peace Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster”