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These Duke Summer Courses Are a Win for Students and Faculty

Members of the 2023 Summer Course Development Grants cohort (from left, Brittney Mitchell, Tom Newpher, Meagan Dunphy-Daly, Anna Smith, Jenifer Hamil-Luker, Ian McArthur, April Henry, Elizabeth Johnson, Claire Rostov and David Morgan); not pictured: Kevin LaBar, Jakob Norberg, Tom Schultz and Leonard White (Photo: Blythe Tyrone)

The Challenge

Help departments to develop or redesign summer courses that will strengthen undergraduate education while furthering Duke’s commitment to excellence in Ph.D. training.

“At Duke, we’re interested in supporting new ideas about how to teach well,” said Ed Balleisen, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies. “We also want to support the development of Ph.D. students as educators as well as researchers, and provide avenues for departments to advance their objectives.”

The Framework

The offices of Undergraduate Education and Interdisciplinary Studies selected five departments for Summer Course Development Grants in 2023, in partnership with Duke Learning Innovation.

A cohort of faculty members and Ph.D. students collaborated on the development or redesign of summer session courses that will be offered regularly to undergraduates beginning next year. In some cases, the Ph.D. students who helped design the courses will serve as the instructors.

Learning Innovation staff led a three-day workshop series in May, and provided two more workshops and consultation throughout the summer. In August, the cohort gathered for presentations to learn from each other across disciplines and provide feedback on the grant experience.

The Cohort

The Courses

The History of Fantasy (German Studies)

Fantasy is a massive subject, said Ph.D. student Ian McArthur during his presentation in August. “It’s an enormous genre across various media.”

To streamline the course and connect it to German Studies, he consolidated films and foundational texts and linked them to Germanic mythologies.

Working on their Duke summer course, a graduate student gestures while a faculty member looks on.
April Henry and Ian McArthur (Photo: Blythe Tyrone)

The title remains under consideration. Balleisen reflected on the tension between choosing a marketing title that will grab students’ interest and going with a more formal title that students would want to see on their transcripts.

Experimental Design & Research Methods (Marine Science & Conservation)

This course takes place at the Duke Marine Lab as part of the new Bonaventura Summer Research Scholars Program. Duke undergraduates can apply in the spring.

Working on their Duke summer course, a graduate student types on a laptop as a faculty member looks on.
Brittney Mitchell and Meagan Dunphy-Daly (Photo: Blythe Tyrone)

“One of the biggest challenges with designing a course like this is striking a balance,” said Ph.D. student Brittney Mitchell, pointing to a wide variety of student levels, interests and experiences. She created an interactive Bonaventura Scholars Workbook with everything from course materials and lecture content to deliverable guidelines.

Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience (Psychology & Neuroscience)

“The age of technology in neuroscience education is ramping up,” said Ph.D. student Anna Smith. She revised the textbook-based summer course as a hands-on, active learning experience that utilizes inexpensive kits for dynamic experiments.

Smith purchased 17 SpikerBoxes that allow students to view and record electrical activity in the heart and brain using a phone or laptop.

A graduate student holds up part of the science kit for her Duke summer course.
Anna Smith

“There’s a lot you can do with these kits,” she said. “We’re hoping students will take their [course] research further through Bass Connections, senior theses and other mechanisms using this infrastructure.”

Religion & Popular Culture (Religious Studies)

In this new course, students will explore topics such as how modern witches are using TikTok and why religious language is used to describe sports fandom, said Ph.D. student Claire Rostov. They’ll consider popular culture in religion as well as religion in popular culture — and then popular culture as religion.

A graduate student and faculty member discuss their Duke summer course while seated at a table.
Claire Rostov and David Morgan (Photo: Blythe Tyrone)

Rostov incorporated a class activity at the Rubenstein Library using the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History collection. Adding another hands-on activity to the course, she devised an assignment for students to create a piece of religious popular culture.

Methods of Social Research (Sociology)

Ph.D. student Elizabeth Johnson took on the challenge of revising Sociology 332. The course is taught by faculty members during the academic year and graduate students in the summer, making it hard to ensure consistency in instruction.

A graduate student gives a presentation about her Duke summer course to an audience of seated faculty members and students.
Clockwise from far left: Ed Balleisen, Elizabeth Johnson, Ian McArthur, Anna Smith, Sophia Stone (Learning Innovation), Brittney Mitchell, Erin Voigt (Marine Lab Scholars Program), Len White, Meagan Dunphy-Daly, Elise Mueller (Learning Innovation), Claire Rostov and David Morgan; not pictured: Jakob Norberg (behind Mitchell), Xinzhu Wang (behind Mueller)

Johnson’s solution was to create a resource library with slides, syllabi, readings, articles, in-class activities, assignments, instructions and project rubrics. This will help future Ph.D. students who are asked to teach the summer course and ensure that sociology majors are well prepared to take on their own capstone projects.

The Winners

These five departments gained new or redesigned courses that align with their curricular priorities and can be taught regularly during summer sessions.

Participating faculty members received research funding, and the Ph.D. students received summer funding while building their skills in course design and pedagogy. The students who go on to teach their courses next year will also gain experience as effective instructors.

Undergraduates will benefit from a greater number and range of summer courses that incorporate innovative approaches, and future Ph.D. students will have access to an archive of course materials to support their own summer teaching.

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