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From the Discovery Classroom: Writing to the Topic

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For the last five years, Krista Jackman’s English 401 students have been writing essays connected to the University Dialogue. They’ve penned papers on poverty and democracy and technology—research papers, analytical papers, persuasive pieces on broad topics with far-reaching implications.

This year, writing to the theme “Finding Common Ground: A University Dialogue on Solving Complex Problems”, their personal essays give them the chance to figure out how they might solve a problem that’s connected to their own lives.

One student is writing about how to navigate college when you have a chronic illness; another will address problems encountered as a volunteer for a nonprofit group that combats poverty.

After the students get the words down, they then have to translate them into a visual essay using interactive media—video, music, still photos or animation, for example. The combination helps clarify their ideas and provides yet another tie-in to the University Dialogue.

The University Dialogue is a component of The Discovery Program, which ties general education requirement courses across curriculums. It also serves as a theme throughout the year to focus community events and conversations on an area of broad interest, a big question or an enduring problem.

Earlier this semester, in an analytical paper, a student wrote a piece looking at the problem of technology’s impact on communication and attention span.

We had a fantastic classroom conversation that focused on this,” Jackman says. “The kids were talking about things they had heard in their communications classes, their psychology classes, things their parents had told them, things they’d ‘heard’ online. We were coming at it from an analytical vantage point, and the Dialogue got us there-- the focus on solving a complex problem.”

Jackman says this year’s topic helps students understand how the problems in their lives intersect with theme and how to negotiate those problems to be successful.

“The University Dialogue really helps bridge the gap between classroom life and ‘real’ life,” Jackman says. “Students really have to peel the onion—go layer after layer. The discussions make UNH a nice, small place, and very manageable for entering freshman.”
Jackman’s students also have to participate in at least one University Dialogue event. This year they attended author Conor Grennan’s lecture, “Little Princes:  One man’s promise to bring home the lost children of Nepal.”

“With the University Dialogue, students bump into things they wouldn’t ordinarily bump into,” Jackman says. “It gives them a chance to write about what matters to them.”

Read information on the Discovery Program at http://www.unh.edu/discovery/