Teaching Assistants: Experiential Learning in the Classroom
In 2017, Prof. Elizabeth Drescher was awarded a fellowship with the Center for Arts and Humanities, which had been formed that year. Her proposal included a request for funding for a student fellow, which enabled the selection of a student who would both assist Exploring Living Religion (RSOC 14) course and contribute to other Living Religion Collaborative (LRC) projects, such as the Encounter geomapping project and publication of Bearings Magazine for our collaborator, The BTS Center. Additional funding came from The BTS Center in 2018 to bring on an additional LRC Fellow, and, in 2019 extended that funding, in collaboration with Prof. Jaime Wright, with a teaching and technology grant. LRC Fellows have worked extensively in the classroom, but they have also had experience producing—and contributing to—an award-winning national magazine, creating and implementing social media marketing plan, conducting student focus groups, giving presentations on LRC projects in Religious Studies courses, and conducting background research on living religion. Our current funding stream will allow for two LRC Fellows in the 2019-2020 academic year, one focusing on further development of Encounter, and a second focused on producing Bearings. These fellows have had the opportunity to assist in LRC courses.
I had the honor to be invited to TA for the RTC 1 course, Exploring Living Religion (RSOC 14) in the fall and spring quarters. Having the ability to work with the students has been such a great experience and has given me the opportunity to use my religious background and knowledge from other courses in my ability to assist students. Especially in a course such as this, where the students are required to visit other religious sites, I have been able to also visit sites I have never visited before. Through this expansion of experience and openness to new experiences, I have seen my own intellect be stretched, challenged, and expanded. It has been such a joy to work with a great group of students and help them understand the benefit of religious literacy.
Spring 2019 has been my final quarter as a teaching assistant for Prof. Drescher’s RSOC 14: Exploring Living Religions course. Having previously assisted with this class a couple of times, I knew a little bit about what to expect from students trying to navigate new understandings of religion that they had not previously been exposed to. Nonetheless, I was excited to meet a new group of students and to introduce them to aspects of religion that they had never encountered before. In my role as TA, I accompanied groups of students to different religious sites about 10 times throughout the quarter. These sites included San Jose Sikh Gurdwara, Duc Vien Buddhist Pagoda, Congregation Sinai, Shri Krishna Vrundavana, and Chua Di Lac. We were able to participate in a number of different worship and ritual services including the Vaisakhi festival in Sikhism.
What I have learned from my experience as a TA, particularly in a religious studies class, is that it can be difficult to get young people interested in the subject matter. But thankfully our location in this uniquely diverse Silicon Valley area provides us with a rare opportunity to see religious communities in action and to engage with practitioners from a wide range of faiths and creeds. Being immersed in the spaces used by religious communities around the San Jose area allows students to get a different perspective on what religious life is like and how religion can shape everyday life in a nuanced and fascinating way. At first, students often gripe about the early morning wake up times for visits on the weekends but after they’ve rubbed the tiredness out of their eyes and have begun to partake in ritual services or indulge in traditional Indian or Vietnamese cuisine, there tends to be a slight shift in their mindset. From what I’ve observed, they begin to see that religion is not just some peripheral, private, and personal affair but that it shapes communities and at times gives people a home away from home, where they can reconnect with their cultural and spiritual roots. I believe the valuable intercultural exchanges that I’ve had as a result of my visits to different religious sites have helped prepare me for where I will be heading next. I will be doing the Peace Corps in Zambia in Fall and I look forward to continuing to develop myself as an educator as I try my hand at English teaching.
Jun 11, 2019
Claire Dixon and students.