Sunday, December 11, 2011

Final Evaluation Paper


Ben Westfall
Final Evaluation
Living Jerusalem

Course Reading:
To begin with, I would like to say that I liked all of the readings and they were extremely informative; they helped me provided me with significantly more material on which to base my knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Jerusalem. I, however, would like to discuss one source of material from which we read a substantial amount: Karen Armstrong’s Jerusalem.
            Despite my enjoyment of Armstrong’s book on the history of the city of Jerusalem and the peoples that shaped it, I indeed had a few problems with the way in which we approached the reading. Armstrong’s book covers a substantial amount of information, i.e. the entire history of Jerusalem. Thus, despite her best efforts, the content is remarkably dense and at some points extremely dry. At some points, we were required to read anywhere from 80-100 pages in two days. It was at these times that I found myself rushing through the material and consequently skipping over some important parts and not retaining many others. This actually really stressed me out at times; I am not a fast reader and these assignments often took me 3 hours or so to complete.
            So, I would like to say that reading the entire book in such a short timeframe is not necessarily the best way to approach our learning the material. I would suggest, rather, that the book be spread out over a longer period of time, allowing us to feel less pressure to get the reading done quickly and make it seem less of a chore. Perhaps, if this suggestion is not ideal, we could read selected pages from each chapter; often Armstrong rants about thoughts and ideas that shaped Jerusalem, which honestly I did not understand or I just found it as useless information. So perhaps editing the readings to the trimmed-down important parts would be most beneficial.

Blogging:
We began blogging at the beginning of the year with the requirements of writing a substantial response to each reading, and writing comments on 3 different blogs by the weekend. With these requirements in addition to the lengthy Armstrong readings, the homework proved to be almost unmanageable at times. These also requirements added another feeling of this homework being somewhat forced and unnatural. As we talked about and fixed earlier this year, writing responses to 3 blogs is extremely difficult, and the comments start to become contrived and repetitive.
            Another aspect the blogging that seemed forced was the expectation to read each person’s blog every time a response was posted. This in itself takes a significant amount of time to complete, and honestly people generally discuss in class the next day what they had written in their blogs. This fact more or less renders the expectation useless, since the information will be learned one way or another.
            So, instead of requiring us to read each blog and write a lengthy response for each reading, I suggest that 1 response to the readings should be done per week and that the expectation to read each blog should have less force behind it and have that activity be more at one’s leisure.



Videoconferences:
The videoconferences we took part in this semester were all extremely informative and beneficial to my understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the nature of Jerusalem. I felt thoroughly honored with the opportunities to speak with such important people as Naomi Chazan, Mariam Said, and Salim Tamari.
            One of the few issues that I did have with the videoconferencing, though, was our initial inability to get the conversations going. At times, especially in our first few conferences, the long pauses were awkward and I personally was embarrassed for our class. These people take time out of their busy schedules to speak with us and further our understanding of Jerusalem and the conflict.
            In order to mitigate this issue, I think it would be wise to hold a number of shorter videoconferences at the beginning of the semester. This will help the class become accustomed to the intricacies of the videoconference and most likely reduce the shyness much of our class felt initially.

Final Projects:
In each International Studies class I have taken here at IU, I have been required to complete a final project and present my findings to the class. These tend to be informative, though sometimes boring, and very beneficial especially for the knowledge of the presenter.
            I indeed believe that the final projects should continue to be done by future students of the class, but I think that these projects should conform to stricter guidelines. Projects/presentations serve as an opportunity to explore a topic of interest in further depth than covered during class. They allow the presenter to expand his/her background knowledge and while simultaneously teach others. Allowing presentations to be some form of artwork or something similar, in my personal opinion, takes away from the point of the final project. In the examples I have seen, no further information is explored, no new topics are covered; the pieces of art (albeit cool and interesting) are influenced by things learned in the past.

General Discussion on the Class:
I believe one of the primary weaknesses of the class is one we have already discussed, and actually agreed upon. Throughout the course, we have talked with people who generally have the same viewpoint on the conflict (progressive and pushing for an equal solution). Thus, even though we learn an immense amount of such a stance on the conflict of Israelis, Palestinians, and experts on the topic, we are provided with a rather narrow spectrum of what the people involved in this conflict actually believe.
            In reality, viewpoints range from those who believe that the complete destruction of Israel is necessary, to those who believe that Israel and its territories belong strictly to Jews. Although these extremes are not often encountered, it merely shows that not everyone is looking for a peaceful, diplomatic, or even solution to the conflict. There are many, like the Palestinian student here at IU, who stray from the stance that the Jerusalem Project takes. If we are missing these other viewpoints, we are missing out on the potential for much more understanding of the conflict and why coming to a solution has been so difficult.
            Thus, it is necessary to have a week or two devoted to these other viewpoints. Perhaps one week would be for the array of Palestinian extremes and the other that of the Israeli extremes. We could read about Zionism and the like, and a perhaps a similar topic but for Palestinians. It would also be extremely beneficial to videoconference with parties of the two sides in order to hear the stances vocalized. It might be ideal to videoconference in consecutive classes with one further extreme party and one of the Jerusalem project; this would help contrast the two viewpoints remarkably, and clarify things for the students.
            The idea of making the class one 2.5-hour class every week is something I do not entirely agree with. Although I know it works out successfully at OSU with the timing of the videoconferences, 2.5 hours is just too long for anyone to concentrate fully. The 1 hour 15 minute length is substantial for the class.

Personal View of the Class:
Just to clarify, from the things I have said in this paper, it may seem as if I did not enjoy the class. This, however, could not be further from the truth. I honestly thought this class was one of the best classes I have taken at IU so far, and it impacted my knowledge greatly. I love the set-up and how we were able to speak with such significant figures. The things I have mentioned are merely suggestions to make a great class even better.

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