Dr. Sean Connors course Literacy in America uses inquiry-based learning to expand students’ understanding of literacy and the way it affects peoples’ lives.
Sean Connors, associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education and Health Professions, led a discussion on “Reading the Word, Researching the World: Designing Inquiry-Based Learning Experiences for Students in Higher Education” at the November 2019 Wally Cordes Chair Discussion.
In his presentation, Dr. Connors talked about his course ENGL 2173: Literacy in America. In this course, he sends his students out into the communities of Northwest Arkansas and has them speak with people about the experiences they’ve had with literacy sponsors in their lives. The goal of these interviews is to answer a specific set of questions about literacy in diverse Ozark households.
What is the relationship between the place someone lives and the purpose and value of literacy?
What role do literacy sponsors play in the lives of people?
How do social and economic factors in a given place shape the purpose of people’s literacy?
These stories are then transcribed and turned into short videos about the people of the Ozarks, and all of this information is stored in the archives of the Shilo Museum of Ozark History in Springdale, Arkansas. There is a community event where these videos are presented to the public and shared with the subject of the video.
He spoke about the preconceived notions that he had of the Ozarks based on how it was represented in media as he was growing up and to some extent is. He also talked about how much his view of the Ozarks changed after moving to the area and experiencing the people and places first-hand. The students that he teaches come with the same kinds of preconceived notions about groups of people or areas of the country, and this type of assignment allows them to go out and learn the real stories of people in an effort to connect them to new places and diverse life experiences.
He has found that the students really become more invested in this type of assignment than in a standard paper or presentation. Not only do they know that this work will be stored in the museum’s archives for future generations, but they also want to do right by the person whose story they are telling.
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This content was developed from a presentation by Sean Connors which was sponsored by The Wally Cordes Teaching and Faculty Support Center (TFSC) at the University of Arkansas.