How to learn everything in 3.5 hours

Today's class session notes, if I were to write them up, would probably amuse ProfP, Weberman and E. At times, I was sat there thinking "this would make an excellent reality TV show" and fighting a strong urge to look back and see Nemesis (of the Machiavellian kind) shadowing me about.

So, what happened? Well, the session itself went off okay. This was one of those sessions where my two classes--Global Public Health and International Law and Human Rights--were at the same time and each was 3.5 hours long. We started off with introductions, I emphasised their general good luck in acquiring (if they finished all assignments and I liked said assignments) one university-level credit for doing far less work than "normal" university-level students usually do, introduced them to the wonders of Blackboard and the wondrous site that is TUWSNBN's library and got on with the business of actually getting them to learn.

I should probably digress at this point by adding that I had acquired, for the purposes of this first class, two Teaching Assistants. One, about to enter Medical School in the Fall, was for the Health class and the other, about to enter Law School next year, was for the Law class. Their jobs was to facilitate each of the classes since, despite my wishes, I couldn't be in two places at one time.

So, the introductory lecture: I have a bit in the beginning where I talk about how Global Health and International Law are related. Some of the challenges they face are similar--we go on to discuss things like "public goods", transboundary issues, sovereignty of the state and social justice and equity (my themes for all my courses--might as well stick with things I know). We watch a film on Climate Change and how that will affect global health and also how it's a challenge to international law. It (seems to) go okay.

Then, we separate out and I have to hand over my Health class to HealthTA. HealthTA is fantastic and she's supposed to be leading an in-class exercise on "Neglected Tropical Diseases". They watch a video on Guinea Worms (pretty gruesome and available on YouTube if yous are interested), read a NYT article about tropical diseases and start a discussion. We were trying to get them to think about "health" and "global health" from a perspective which they (usually) wouldn't have thought of.

While this was going on, LawTA had the Law class and was conducting a Negotiations Exercise on Climate Change. Each student had a reading packet and was one of the major actors in the International Climate Change regime. They were supposed to discuss what the main goals and interests of each actor was and how the interests could be (and whether they could be) accommodated through the international regime.

Where's the amusing part you ask? Well, after having been a "veteran" of these gigs by now, I knew that we had to explain basic concepts like the United Nations,* The G-8, the Kyoto Protocol and so on. I forgot to tell this to LawTA who, understandably, thought they knew all this and was surprised when they didn't. The conversation we had very much resembled numerous conversations I've had with the people mentioned above:

LawTA: I can't believe they didn't know the UN! Or, "developing countries"
Me: Yes, well, these are not terms that come up often in high schools, presumably.
LawTA then explains how, in her high school, they had Model United Nations and Amnesty International and such. Pretty much what I tend to do when talking to the people mentioned earlier. Role reversal--this time around, I was explaining that concepts seemingly-obvious to us aren't to the students we are working with. There's not much point in whingeing about it but, instead, get them to understand these things.

My learning experience here? LawTA's easy acknowledgment of "we Americans can agree that human rights should be gender-neutral and encompass the whole world, right?" when discussing Universal vs. Culturally-specific rights. It's a statement that, as a non-American, I wouldn't be able to make. I can't say: Look, we don't do X in our country since the "us"--the students and I sharing an experience of having lived and having been from here-- is missing. For me, it's always, "you", which then distances me from the students I'm interacting with. Something that I hadn't thought about much until I watched LawTA in action.

On the HealthTA side, the learning experience was a practical one. It's been a hot day here in Berkeley (hot, being about 85 degrees Fahrenheit) and the room we were sat in was humid. The students, some of whom had travelled across the country, were falling asleep. So, HealthTA made each of them read from the PowerPoint slides we had--slides about how Global Public Health is about issues such as equity, access, affordability and not just about being free from diseases. She then made each student explain what they thought the slide meant and come up with examples. This actually generated a fair amount of interest and discussion and is definitely a tip I shall pick up on, I reckon!

So, there yous have it. Tomorrow morning, my Global Public Health class continues at 8am. Hopefully, we've not yet scared off the kids.

* Really. I had a student define the United Nations as "all the rich countries". I know people despair of the high school system all the time but, really! However, I guess they're still kids and it's our task to get them to think on such issues. Have I become all Berkeley-ian and Zen?

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