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Common Concepts Project: Community

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A strong commitment to teaching and to interdisciplinary collaboration is the foundation for the Common Concepts Project: Community at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. During the 2002-2003 academic year, the project committee of six faculty, a librarian, and one student will work to incorporate the theme of “Community” into their courses. Led by co-directors Don Ulin, English, and David Champion, administration of justice, the project has as its goal the forging of links between courses and departments, thus encouraging students’ appreciation of these interconnections and their power to create new knowledge and perspectives.

At UPB, Champion believes, “Our departments and disciplines are so small and integrated that there is already a collegiality and interdisciplinary warmth. The faculty here are concerned with our primary mission—teaching.” Ulin agrees: “This project grows out of connections that happen naturally across disciplines. The idea, therefore, is to take those connections and bring them into our classrooms.”

With common themes that will change yearly, the project involves a number of innovative features. For example, in the spring it will host an interdisciplinary undergraduate conference. “But rather than having a poster session followed by a keynote speaker, followed by another session, we’re considering films, performances, and other things promoting the notion of community,” explains Ulin. Furthermore, the students in attendance will have the opportunity to produce papers or other material for presentation. As Champion notes, “For students who go on to graduate schools or to professional schools, participation in a professional conference is a valuable lesson.” Additionally, the project will include a Common Concept Seminar, online resources, interdisciplinary discussion groups, and a lecture series featuring visiting scholars.

For both students and faculty, working collaboratively to enhance learning is the real goal. Ulin emphasizes that the project “will address a disconnection I’ve felt between what students are doing in my class, and what they are doing in someone else’s class.” Echoing the importance of creating these larger connections, Champion adds, “The big joy of teaching and learning is when something clicks and students can understand the connections. We’re pushing them to think across disciplines. That’s where the real intellectual revelation takes place.”


OCTOBER 2002

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Common Concepts Project: Community

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