Theory of Connectivity...

Theory of Connectivity

They're designing instruments in Professor Clif Kussmaul's First Year Seminar.

First-Year Seminars are small, discussion-oriented courses that provide entering students with the opportunity to work closely with a faculty member. The seminars, required of all first-year students and normally limited to an enrollment of 15, help promote intellectual discussion and critical thinking, reading and writing skills.

Kussmaul, associate professor of computer science at Muhlenberg, teaches "Studying Problems, Creating Solutions," a seminar designed to help students overcome difficulties through innovation and creativity.

Students in the course studied percussion instruments and then had a period of two weeks to plan and build their own. The finished products included a drum that changed pitch based on tension, PVC arranged into a vertical xylophone and aluminum water-bottle chimes.

While all seminars are writing-intensive, Kussmaul's students often find themselves utilizing science, technology, engineering and mathematics in their projects.

"Students in high school too often have very scripted experiences," says Kussmaul. "High school teachers know what steps students have to follow, and students are smart enough to realize that the objective is to guess what the teacher wants them to do."

First-Year Seminar Pookkalam Instruments aren't the only items the students constructed this semester. Many were also involved in the installation of a pookkalam, a pattern, usually made of flowers, used to celebrate Onam, a 10-day festival in Kerala, in south India.

Kussmaul's class takes a very different approach from what many incoming first-year students expect. Rather than offer simple problem/solution learning methods, he encourages exercises that are more open-ended and offer a variety of solutions. "My hope," says Kussmaul, "is that they'll be able to transfer this type of thinking to lots of other things that they do."


Would you like to learn more about our Theory of Connectivity? Take a look at our other stories to see the many aspects of our unique, boundary-breaking community.