When students in Professor Ann Marie Stock's Hispanic Studies 392 class approached her about taking control of their course, she encouraged them. Wanting to get her insights on the educational value of such a move, we asked:
Q: Allowing students to exercise control over this class shows a lot of faith in them. Wasn't this a risk?
Stock: I love a many things about William and Mary, but I think the first thing that comes to mind is the students. The capability of the students, their desire to learn, not just to get a grade but their desire to experience something different, to make sense of it, to engage in the world in a really sophisticated way, is remarkable. They are not just passive learners, they are active learners. I relate to that.
I am an active learner. I mean, I'm in this business because I love learning—I couldn't stop at high school, and then I couldn't stop at college, and then I got through grad school and I still wanted to be on a university campus because it for me is like for a fish the water. This is my world. And it is their world. When Jacob Rooksby approached me with the idea that students wanted to take control of their learning, I was excited for them. I can't teach from a text book from beginning to end because I can't learn that way. For me learning is about my engagement with content and with the world around me. That is what I encouraged them to do.
The fact is that the world changes every day, and it's really important for our students to be aware of this transformation—not to learn what the facts are but to learn how to make sense of the world and its changes. Otherwise the minute they leave William and Mary their learning to understand and to assume their roles in their world would be over.
Q: Were you concerned about negative feedback from the administration?
Stock: I think a course like this can only take place because we're at an institution where we can take risks as learners, as teachers, and we're allowed to innovate—in fact, we're encouraged to innovate and to be entrepreneurial.
Q: You have made the study of Cuban culture—especially cinema—an academic specialty. Why do you think it is important for students to learn about that nation?
Stock: I think we as a nation have a gross misunderstanding of Cuba. We have a very limited perspective of the lives of individual Cubans—we see Cuba as frozen in time; as mysterious and jazzy, or as dull and oppressed. We don't see Cuba as an island with 11 million men, women and children who have jobs and go about their family business. We ignore the nation's complexity. We ignore the fact that Cuba is providing a model to many of the Caribbean nations, and I think it offers us in the United States things we really could benefit from. I think it's important that we—who often think of ourselves as the center of the world, as having the most advanced society, the most developed culture—acknowledge that other people, other nations, have managed to do some things we haven't managed to do.
Q: How have the students benefited?
Stock: This class really matters to the students who are in it. I think the students will leave this course feeling equipped to continue to make sense of information they get about Cuba. They will leave it feeling that they have more ownership over their education and that they are on their way to becoming lifelong learners because this course didn't teach them content alone but it taught them how to approach issues and work through them with people who have very different experiences. They are learning to think more creatively about their own education. They are becoming lifelong learners, and they are empowering others to do the same.
Q: This year you have served as acting director of the Reves Center. Could this class serve in any way as a microcosm of your goals for the center?
Stock: Yes, it is. I see the Reves Center as having the potential to mobilize or activate talent and energy from all over the campus—students, faculty and administrators. I see a collective approach to making things go forward. I see a vision for the Reves Center that has experiential learning in the international sphere very much connecting with the classroom learning on campus, a vision that grows out of the ideas, experiences and desires of students and faculty engaged with our everchanging world.
Q:Were there any other surprises for you concerning the class?
Stock: I am just thinking about how the alumni—the artists Connie Desaulniers and Kathy Hornsby in particular—came back to the classroom to work with our students. So did one student's father, and other Hispanic studies faculty. There were many others. We talk about one William and Mary community, and it was wonderful to see it at work in so many ways. Of course, this really doesn't surprise me. This is William and Mary!