Finally, the Classroom I’ve Always Wanted

by Shubhechha Dhar on October 17th

The best part about studying here is that I am expected to ask questions and challenge stereotypes rather than memorize and repeat without thought.

- Shubhechha Dhar

Classroom.

It used to be that when I heard the word “classroom,” I pictured students fighting to stay awake while the professor droned on, driving students into mind-numbing misery. Not anymore. My idea of a classroom changed when I transferred to Arcadia as a sophomore this fall.

When I was in high school back in India, I was handed dozens of pages to memorize by rote. The teachers had a “don’t ask me any questions” kind of attitude. They would tell us that “the Earth is a planet,” and when we asked “Why is the Earth a planet?,” they would say, “Don’t talk back like that! It just is.” Besides asking questions about homework, I never had any social interactions with my teachers at school. If I ever met my teachers outside of class, I would try to camouflage into the background, uncomfortable even at the thought of interacting with them. The only thing that excited me about classes were the words “class cancelled.”

Students exploring their identities in my Studio Art: Foundations course.

Sitting in a class with 130 other students and the teacher reading out of the textbook was no fun. We just sat there as silent listeners, agreeing to whatever the teacher was saying, nodding our heads every once in awhile to indicate that we were listening. All I wished for was experiential learning. My wish was granted when I started classes at Arcadia.

“To understand the importance of body language in an effective speech, let’s start by playing a game of charades!” my speech communications professor announced.

My jaw dropped. Were we really going to play charades in class? For someone like me who hadn’t learned through any other medium apart from books, this kind of a classroom activity was fascinating. We did yet another activity to understand the concept of vocal variety. My professor handed me a children’s story book and I was asked to alter my voice and read it out loud as if I were reading it to a five-year-old kid who was hyper after consuming a bag of sugary candies. I remember studying about vocal variety back in school where my teacher simply read out the definition from a textbook (you can guess which way of learning was more fun).

Through these classroom activities, I realized that I was actively engaged in what I was studying and was able to actually put to practice what I learned.

“I feel it is important to actually practice the skills that we are learning so that students can express themselves effectively. The class activities serve many purposes— to not only have students practice the particular skill but also to give them more experience presenting in front of their peers.” my Speech Communications professor, Chris Mullin, told me.

It is not just my Speech Communications class that requires me to go beyond textbooks, but all of my classes. For my Foundations class, we made masks that reflected our personalities to understand the theme of identity and the relationship between design and narrative. We had open discussions about identities while we crafted our masks in class!

Hands-on learning is a major component of classes at Arcadia.

One of the biggest differences between my classes here and in India is that the classes at Arcadia have no more than 15 students. Because of the small class size, not only did I connect with my professors, but also with my classmates. We all know each other and strike up conversations with each other as well as our professors before and after class.

The best part about studying here is that I am expected to ask questions and challenge stereotypes rather than memorize and repeat without thought. My idea of a classroom has changed from one where the only person who talks is the professor to a friendly place where students can meet and learn from each other.

“We are all just a bunch of writers hanging out and talking about our work,” my Poetry & Fiction professor, Jeffrey Ingram, likes to say.

Now, whenever I receive an email from any of my professors with the subject “class cancelled,”  you will hear me groan “NOOOOO” in disappointment. (Yes, that is how much I love my classes at Arcadia.)