Faculty Perspectives on Advanced Seminars at the University of Denver, 2017

Former Director Doug Hesse provides an analysis of faculty perspectives on DU Advanced Seminars collected at workshops held from June-7-13, in 2017.



Twenty four DU professors who had taught ASEM courses in 2016-17 each participated in one of three 3-hour workshops, held June 7, 12, and 13.

There were three components to the workshop::

  1. First was an exercise in which participants were asked to rank 10 anonymous ASEM proposals in terms of their alignment with the letter and spirit of ASEM.
  2. The results from that exercise led, second, to small and large group discussion of the goals of ASEM, its place in the curriculum, its features and characteristics, and student performances in the course.
  3. Third, the group reviewed different ways of making writing assignments and responding to them, and discussed (albeit briefly) an article “What Meaningful Writing Means for Students” (https://www.aacu.org/peerreview/2017/Winter/Eodice).

At the end of the workshop, faculty were asked to choose and write 20 minutes about one question (their choices were the questions at 10, 2, and 4 o’clock in the image below), and upload their writings to a google doc. This report lists participants, summarizes themes gathered from writings, and illustrates those themes. The final portion of this research presents the raw, individual responses. Professors enjoy the “crowning” experience that ASEM provides to the common curriculum. On the whole, they enjoy teaching their passions to students who a) come from outside the professor’s discipline and b) carry their own expertise to draw on in class discussions.

Findings Summarized:

Main strengths of ASEM are getting students outside their majors, encountering new topics from multiple perspectives, and making connections between different courses and ways of knowing. Writing presents challenges, including in understanding just what kinds of approach to take. Teaching advanced students outside the discipline forces professors to rethink assumptions and approaches—and this is good.

Participant List:

  • Angelo Castagnino, Languages and Literatures;
  • Naomi Reshotko, Philosophy
  • Josh Wilson, Political Science;
  • Bernadette Calafell, Communication Studies;
  • Dheepa Sundaram, Religious Studies;
  • Daniel Melleno, History;
  • Li Li Peters, Languages and Literatures;
  • Mitchell Ohriner, Lamont (music theory);
  • Sandy Dixon, Religious Studies;
  • Markus Schneider, Economics;
  • Michael Brent, Philosophy;
  • Christy-Dale Sims Communication Studies;
  • Sara Chatfield, Political Science;
  • Luis Leon, Religious Studies;
  • Nichol Weizenbeck, English;
  • Amie Levesque, Sociology;
  • Lisa Pasko; Sociology;
  • Taylor Nygaard, Media, Film, and Journalism;
  • Shawn Alfrey, Honors Program;
  • Rachael Liberman, MFJS;
  • Arthur Jones, Lamont School of Music;
  • Aaron Paige, Music/Lamont;
  • Beth Campbell, History;
  • Jodie Kreider, History;

Summarized Themes

The ten most common themes that emerged from coding the open-ended responses were:

  • 1. Students benefit from getting out of their majors, especially late in their careers at DU, and from encountering new topics and ideas, especially from different angles. Most of them like the change, while for some their disciplinary mooring are so st
    • “[T]he best moments were when students encountered a topic they had never thought about before and were able to look at it from a different angle.” (B)
    • “A forum for advanced-level students from a variety of academic backgrounds to get together and read, talk, think, and write about a topic that is outside of their major yet of interest to them and, with any luck, a wider academic, social, and political importance.” (G)
    • “The ASEM offers an opportunity for students to engage with diverse ideas, topics, and cultures. I see the ASEM as a way to provide students a chance to discuss something they would never have studied or learned in another class.” (J)
    • “Based on my experience, the strongest aspects of ASEM courses is that, while the goals and outcomes describe ASEMs as ‘designed for nonmajors,’ these courses help students embrace ‘different perspectives’ that they eventually overlap with their main fields of specialization.” (K)
    • “I think the challenge of leaving their majors and wear[ing] multiple disciplinary hats as they inch toward degree completion is important.” (O)
    • “[T]hey are ensconced in disiplinary research habits. I was surprised to find this especially in terms of how students put creative texts in dialogue with the particularities of social, historial, political ‘reality.’” (P)
    • “[T]he multiple perspectives of nonmajors is incredibily rewarding, but it puts a lot of pressure on the instructor and their conceptualization of the course topic to make sure all students have a common foundation and can operate with similar vocabulary as they move forward.” (R)
    •  “[A]im to teach students how to integrate knowledge gained from multiple disciplines and perspectives as a foundational basis for both critical thinking and communication.” (U)
  • 2. Looking at topics from multiple perspectives (one of the ASEM requirements) or from outside perspectives is valuable and productive (C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K, L, Q, R, U, S)
    • “I think a crucial task for the instructor is to develop students’ skills to convey those ideas through different forms of writing and text creation, learning how to effectively express ideas to a variety of audiences.” (F)
    • “If we are going to think outside the box part of that should be perhaps reading and engaging work that may be outside of our comfort zone. It has always been my belief that the university should have a diversity requirement. I wonder if inclusivity as a part of the ASEMs might be one way to address this and work to create a more welcoming community?” (D)
    • “The goal and act of explicitly and compellingly yoking the practice of writing to the act of reading, discussing, and thinking about a broad variety of topics is what makes the ASEM so compelling to me as a teaching model.” (E)
    • “ASEM tilts their gaze upward, allowing them to see beyond the limitations inherent within their academic home, and to apply their critical reasoning skills with the aim of integrating divergent perspectives and synthesizing ideas.” (G)
    • “[I]t brings together students from across the university with most of their college experience behind them. As juniors and seniors, the students know things!” (I) “In a sense, they expand what I’m able to teach in the classroom and then force students to take responsibility for their learning.” (J)
    • “The importance of multiple perspectives cannot be stressed enough here; one of the major goals of my course(s) is to introduce ideas/knowledge that may be overlooked due to many factors, but are nonetheless an important part of the conversation around scholarship in the area of the course.” (Q)
    • “[I]t asks students to take their interests and expertise (whether that be finance, biology, hospitality, theater, etc.) and apply it as a critical lens onto the texts we read.” (S)
  • 3. Having upper-division students from different majors in each class benefits the common curriculum. (A, C, D, F, G, I, K, R)
    • “[I]t is especially nice that they are near the end of the 4 year college experience because we spend some time discussing that experience and it’s supposed goals in a theoretical and rigorous way with help from various authors…In general I think it is great to have students have this intended academic experience late in their college career.” (A)
    • “I tend to think of it as a capstone class that lives outside of any particular major.” (G) “I was very clear at the beginning that within the broad scope of the class, I had no particular agenda and that the class as a whole would determine the direction and specific topics to explore.” (I)
    •  “When I first taught my class, I assumed that the simultaneous presence of different backgrounds would be the most difficult challenge, but the ability to make meaningful connections between the ASEM and one’s major has now begun one of the main things I look for.” (K)
  • 4. Students vary greatly in ability as well as writing training in their discipline, which makes balancing the amount of teaching needed and introducing new disciplinary approaches challenging. (A, B, D, O, P, Q)
    • “It has taken me a long time to figure out how to design assignments and discussion questions around the novels and films that I use in my ASEM.” (A)
    • “[T]here was a pretty sharp divide in writing skills across the business majors and AHSS/science majors. I’m not sure how I could best deal with this in a future course, since the idea is to be writing intensive – so of course I want to focus on these skills, but it felt like I was at once providing too little scaffolding/instruction for the low-skill students, while some of the higher-skills students would get bored or feel a little patronized by the amount of skill-building type activities we would do in class.” (B)
    • “In my experience the intense writing focus can be a challenge…I wonder if a turn to composition and rhetoric work on cultural rhetorics and other forms of literacy may be something to consider in the future as a way to address the question of whether the intensive writing focus is really serving the students well?...when students come to the ASEM 99% of them don’t know anything about citation and they don’t want to learn it.” (D)
  • 5. Professors enjoy teaching their passions and think students benefit from learning about them. (F, H, J, O, R, S)
    • “there is still (and should be) an ability to add something to students.” (H)
    • “I like to teach students usable skills such as learning to present, learning to research, critical reading/thinking, formal writing, synthesizing information into concise, relatable chunks without compromising style or form, etc.” (J)
    • “Developing a course based on one’s expertise (which usually contains a bit of purity from one’s own discipline) for nonmajors and from multiple perspectives (requiring instructors to divorce themselves from such purity for awhile) can be tricky and is not always easy to achieve…” (O)
    • “…Overall, though, as an instructor of ASEM courses for several years now, it is one of my favorite courses to teach.” (O)
    • “I love that these courses allow professors to teach their passions. One of the major takeaways from teaching an ASEM is that my students are inspired by my own passion and enthusiasm for these issues we discuss.” (R)
    • “What I found particularly attractive in the ASEM course description itself was the notion of choosing a subject in which I am knowledgeable and passionate.” (S)
  • 6. Shorter assignments, or multimedia ones, might work better than long writing projects. (A, D, J, Q, R, V)
    • “I have gravitated toward focusing on the diversity of ideas and approaches and having many shorter writing assignments. Most of the writing assignments focus on smaller pieces of text and are rigorous in their demands for clarity, detail, and application to lived experience, rather than asking students to do independent research or attack a coherent thesis through multiple pages…and seems the most natural way to allow students with diverse (though advanced) academic backgrounds to be challenged and to improve their writing.” (A)
    • “Rather than worrying about how much formal writing they do, I focus on getting them to write each week and do different types of writing assignments that focus on developing each of the skills” (J)
    • “The focus on traditional paper writing somewhat limits the exploratory potential of this course at times, particularly because my class examines media texts. I believe students could pitch or produce their own forms of media in order to get a better understanding of the challenges facing the producers they are critiquing or learning about.” (R)
    •  “Do they have less experience with this kind of writing than in the past? Was this particular group unique, or have high school curricula been changing? Or even DU courses before they get to ASEM? Do WRIT courses teach this kind of analysis in more traditional research papers? I really don’t know, and am now wondering if I even should be assigning this kind of paper in the ASEM.” (V)
  • 7. Teaching upper-level students in a course like ASEM forces professors to change their teaching approaches and also their assumptions about the centrality of their knowledge and disciplines.

    While this can be difficult or disconcerting, it’s also rewarding and productive. (C, D, H, J, L, N, O, A?, F)


    • “I’ve had to develop ways of analyzing music without formal training, and ways of explaining an array of concepts from music theory and digital audio well enough for students to survive the reading. I suspect that, in years to come, this will in turn impact my teaching of majors.” (C)
    • “[I]t seems to me that ASEM, sitting somewhat outside the usual hierarchies of departments and schools, might have some implicit goals for faculty. Practice in teaching non-majors can have lasting impacts on teaching generally. While I appreciate the opportunity to reflect continually on the curriculum, I think it’s also OK to say, sometimes, that what we’re doing is actually achieving appropriate goals.” (C)
    • “The idea that as instructors we should be willing to push ourselves even further. Have I done enough of that?...The challenge of teaching an ASEM at times can be teaching both content and a research method to students who may not have familiarity with either. Within each students’ majors there may be specific methodologies that are prominent or students may already have some familiarity with.” (D)
    •  “[C]lasses have taken directions I never would have guided it towards, but was very pleased it did because of the way I was able to learn along with students, and how it led students to explicitly draw on how ideas from across their learning tied together with real-world examples.” (F)
    • “Prompt professors to stretch, pursue things that interest them but are in some way new to them, and invite the students to come along. Make them into collaborators or contributors as everyone in the room explores something that is new in some capacity.” (H)
    • “1) it takes more than my own enthusiasm and interest to make the class interesting to students, 2) ASEM topics need to be both broad and specific at the same time, 3) How to make things that are ‘fun’ to me, ‘fun’ for them. In my course focused on a topic rather than a critical organizing concept, the diversity of perspectives I think is easier to foster.” (J) “[R]equired a lot of flexibility and willingness to provide more scaffolding along the way” (N)
  • 8. ASEMs enable, support, and sometimes require connections to other courses or ways of knowing, even synthesis, though sometimes students have great difficulty with it. (F, K, L, O, P, U, W)
    • “I imagine ASEM as a forum for exploring ideas outside of one’s major, with a diverse collection of peers and perspectives.” (F)
    • “Explicitly addressing how to synthesize diverse perspectives and ideas, students should be encouraged to bring in resources, perspectives, ideas from outside the class.” (F)
    •  “Often, teaching ASEM feels more like facilitating a discussion in which students explore their own and others’ perspectives and knowledge.” (F)
    • “ASEM becomes a place for students to investigate why their discipline follows particular practices, through seeing others ways of being and doing.” (F)
    • “The structure of the course allows for the discussion of, for example, organized crime from the perspective of environmental studies and the effect that toxic waste has on the environment and on public health, while incorporating an analysis of its effect on the economy.” (K)
    • “I focus more on the integrating of different perspectives than on synthesis. I do this because, ‘synthesizing’ seems to me to indicate that we come out with a single answer to a complex issue…Integration, as I think of it, allows the articulation of various perspectives to remain visible. What intersects with what? How? Why do we think letting these things intersect in these ways makes sense?” (L)
  • 9. The kinds of critical thinking that ASEM invites and requires are important. (J, P, S, K)
    • “Another aspect of our goals and outcomes that I find pivotal (and that we have briefly discussed during our workshop) is the connection with the reality outside of the classroom and ‘the demands of contemporary life.’” (K)
  • 10. Students feel invited to perform agency and engagement—and do (F, I, S).
    • “Because the students were prepared, the discussions were rigorous and I used them for inspiration for follow-up lectures that helped maintain the academic level of the class. It also meant that they engaged in the writing assignments in a way that surprised me and really impressed me. Students who were used to just sending in their essays and getting good grades took the revision process seriously; students who had always been lauded for their writing in their home disciplines had to contend with different audience’s stylistic preferences.” (I)
    • “[I]t asks students to take their interests and expertise … and apply it as a critical lens onto the texts we read. I find that this produces more invested writing and makes the course more enjoyable for all as the exchange of ideas and information increases the depth of the texts and course.” (S)