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Active Learning and Research

PSYCH 157: Cultural Psychology of Urban Living
Clark students and students from sociology department at the Higher School of Economics in Russia jointly explore urban living from the perspectives of both cultural psychology and sociology. The course is crosslisted through the program in Communication and Culture.

Interviews with Professors Jaan Valsiner and Nikita Pokrovsky

Professor Valsiner

What is the course Cultural Psychology of Urban Living about, and what kind of learning goals do you have for your students?
The goal of the course is to provide students with an understanding of the social realities of urban living from the perspectives of cultural psychology and sociology. The course is carried out in parallel in the two countries, and in the framework of two disciplines. At Clark it is a psychology course, aind in Russia, a sociology course as a part of regular sociology curriculum. The course includes small-scale observational research tasks that should guide students towards developing their skills of observational research in culturally structured open spaces in urban settings. All students are expected to present and analyze visual materials such as photographs and videos taken by themselves and by other students. Our students' research tasks are set up jointly by the American and Russian teams.

Are most of the Clark students who take the course psychology students, or are they from a variety of majors?
Different majors. The course is cross-listed with Communication & Culture and Urban Studies. About half of the students are psychology majors, others communication and culture majors, or still not decided. I am particularly happy to find first year students in the course.

What do you think is special about the way this course is taught?
I would emphasize its international and interdisciplinary nature, the concrete tasks in real life environments, and the weekly video contact.

This is really the learning for the future. For a small university like Clark, it can have the enormous benefits of co-teaching classes with universities all over the world. This is a benefit for Clark students because they see the world; they meet people from the rest of the world through the Internet. It is a benefit for students outside, in different universities. It helps international collaboration; it helps understanding between different societies so that it's very clear that the future is with this kind of learning and teaching.

The most important part of this course is really the possibility to discuss newly emerging ideas of students' research projects across the ocean instantly. We get immediate feedback and see peoples' reactions toward our ways of setting up ideas. They see us, we see them.

Do you feel that this video bridge technology would be useful for other courses?
Absolutely. In psychology we also are using it for a joint research seminar between Clark and a university in Colombia, and are hoping to do another link up between Clark and Brazil. The video bridge technology is very good for discussions and for creating communities of scholars across different universities. I think this technology-based education is a great advantage and is what will happen in the future. It lets us interact with anybody in the world on jointly interesting topics.

Professor Pokrovsky

What do students at your university (State University—Higher School of Economics) study and what is your position there?
HSE is a large social science university (20,000 students) with a few humanities departments on top of it. HSE is a main research university with B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. programs in all disciplines. I personally represent the department of general sociology.

How did you and Professor Valsiner meet?
I met Jaan by pure accident in my provost's office. After a meeting we got into a simple and humane conversation in the hallway. The experience with teleconference teaching is absolutely new for both of us.

What do you think is special about the way this course is taught?
In my opinion, such a course provides a brand new vision of what the teaching process will be in a few years from today in all our schools It is going to be digital, virtual, mobile. Of course, traditional courses will survive in one way or another but the majority of courses will be virtual. The classroom is going to be a non-material space. I hope that progressive universities, like Clark and HSE, can become leaders in this respect. This new format will transform not only the technological aspect of teaching but also (and perhaps in the first place) teaching methods and teaching profession as such.



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Professors Nikita Pokrovsky (left) and Jaan Valsiner

Above: Professor Valsiner talks about the benefit to teaching of using video bridge technology.

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