Dr. Amy Horowitz
April 30, 2013
Living Jerusalem Reflection: Class Critique
I enjoyed Living Jerusalem very much. It is unlike any course I have taken at Indiana University thus far, and probably any course I might take ever. The course made an honest effort to open students’ eyes in an unbiased way, which proves difficult as nearly all information regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict has some sort of bias or agenda. I know this isn’t the place to really discuss our feelings about how the course has impacted each of us personally (that’s what the blogs are for), but the format of the course and the structure definitely affected the dynamic and how I came to view the course as a whole and my opinions about the Arab-Israeli conflict that was shaped over the semester.
Upon entering the class I really had no idea what to expect and this was typical of many other students within in the Living Jerusalem Project that I spoke to. The blogs were a great way to find a small entryway into fellow classmates’ minds about the material. I could relate to their insights, misconceptions, and confusions. I felt like some of the ideas that made me think the most were presented in the personal blog posts. I would have enjoyed reading and writing more of the personal blog posts because it allowed me to reevaluate my opinions and viewpoints and to see them next to those of my classmates’. The commentary on the blog posts had the possibility to be entirely personal and based on how each student interpreted the information. Most of the questions were open-ended, which encouraged students to take the prompts as they saw fit, but it often left me without a lot of direction and guidance. The reassuring aspect is that the class is truly an experiment where we were learning together and it was difficult to be “wrong” in a situation such as this.
One major critique I would have would be about the class is the scheduling of speakers for each day. The speakers were individually intriguing and were very engaging in what they had to say in regards to their knowledge of the topics such as gay rights, music, social issues, political issues, and many others. The topics seemed to jump around from one to another it was difficult to often get a grasp on their perspectives fast enough, because we had just as quickly moved on to another issue, typically linked to the previous speaker, but still different enough to create confusion. In truth I think the only way to combat this is time, which we was always working against us. In the future, I would hope that the course is divided into more cohesive topics from week to week. It was interesting to see many different aspects of Jerusalem, but it made it difficult to become immersed in the specific issue we were discussing within the overarching cultural concept of Jerusalem.
Another suggestion or critique I have about the style of the class would be to include a section about photographs and photography of/in Jerusalem. It was difficult to envision issues of specific spaces when we were not presented with physical photos. It made it difficult to connect to Jerusalem as a physical space and it prevented us from having a mental picture of the material. This was highlighted in the discussions regarding the settlements. The basic information was relatively accessible or relatable, especially about the basic human rights violations but it was entirely different when one of the final presentations showed photos of the crowded spaces and the uninhabitable conditions, often in extremely undesirable locations. If there had been a section specifically on photos or more photos included in the preface of each article, then it might have made the topics a bit more personal or relatable.
The class structure is built for intimate discussions, but the large size of our class prevented in depth discussions in which students learned from another through intellectual debate and dialog. The structure of the class encourages students to speak among themselves in regards to the articles and speakers inside and outside of class. Living Jerusalem IU was extremely well attended, which is a testament to the class’ overall message and goal of allowing students to explore the Arab-Israeli conflict in a civil and productive manner. It became difficult, especially towards the end of the class, to discuss people’s blogs with them because they were able to hide behind their keyboards the entire semester. In the beginning, the blogs were personally terrifying because they were shared among the entire class. Students quickly realize that they only have a limited amount of time to read other blogs and have to become more selective in the ones that they choose to read. I would recommend that students would be assigned different blog posts to comment on. It would reinforce the practice of having students create blog posts on a biweekly basis and it would reinforce the practice of commenting on each other’s blogs. In such a large class, it would make the atmosphere more personal, which was challenging at times during such a large class. It was interesting to see how the blogs had the potential to be extremely personal, but each student had the opportunity to read or listen to the speakers.
Another critique I have of the class is that we were not given the opportunity to discuss with Ohio State University about their experiences with the speakers and the materials. We were able to hear the same lectures, which gave students a fair basis, but we were unable to hear the discussions afterwards. This certainly gave students at IU and Ohio State a sense of privacy, but that sense of privacy was not present to begin with because we were asked to share our thoughts and opinions on our blogs. It would be interesting to record interactions between the Ohio State class and the IU class in terms of dynamics and their social and political views on the Arab-Israeli conflict after the speakers we encountered. In the future it might be beneficial to pair each student up with a student on each campus. This would open students up to new perspectives based on their backgrounds and general interest in the overall topic. The class is described as more of an experiment in the course description and like many experiments there are variables that can be altered in order to produce or change the outcome of that reaction.
Another issue for me during the class was the final project. Although we were able to choose any topic we wanted for the project, the topics were almost too open and too broad. I think everyone would have benefitted from a rubric or something to indicate how we would have been graded, so we could have planned better and differently. The final project allowed each student to explore the topics we discussed during class in either a private or a public setting, or something entirely different. I liked the fact that they were all different and creative in terms of their levels of formality, but I had trouble associating a sense of finality within the class through the completion of my project.
Some of my favorite moments in the class were during the section about Karen Armstrong’s history of Jerusalem. My biggest complaint with her book was that it read as overly emotional towards both sides in an effort to keep bias out of the equation. This is not to discount her book as an excellent introduction, because it truly was. For future classes I would be interested in looking at biased sources in order to compare them. This would allow students to evaluate the different histories in order to create one that made the most sense to them personally. By looking at openly biased sources and their versions of history, it would also allow students to identify biases within articles on their own.
I also think that students should have been more informed about the impact they could and would have by participating in class. I think we were all encouraged to participate during class, but naturally some people responded more than others. I do not think that people realized that they could make a strong impact on the course through this participation. Conversations about the speakers, our projects, and blog comments could be molded or geared towards our class’ interests. I think more people may have participated if they could have realized that by just speaking, they would be able to shape the conversations into something that were more interested in.
Upon reading the course description for Living Jerusalem: Ethnography and Bridge Blogging in Disputed Territories, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I was drawn in by the word “Jerusalem” in the course title, as someone that loves Israel in general, especially Jerusalem, and the cross-counts for my majors (always an added bonus). I am taking 18 credit hours and was feeling very stressed about the sheer amount of work I received within the first few weeks of class. The blogging was very intimidating at first considering I had had no prior experience with it except for a few short angst-filled posts on Tumblr in 7th grade (hardly academic or anything worth talking about). I commend Living Jerusalem as a class and as a concept for pushing students outside of their comfort zones in terms of an alternative format for a course.