Teaching Tips for a course on International Women’s Health and Human Rights based on the book by Anne Firth Murray
From Outrage to Courage grew out of courses I have been teaching since 2001 at Stanford University within the Human Biology Program on “critical issues in international women’s health.” The goals of the courses, beyond the simple transmission of information, are to stimulate students’ concern about the situation of women worldwide and to communicate forcefully the reality of our interdependence and the possibility of change.
I make the point in the book that I believe that what we do may be important but the way that we do it is more important. Therefore, if you plan to teach a course on international women’s health and human rights, I would advise developing a course that allows students great participation in an environment that encourages trust and respect.
Anne Firth Murray
Timing of class and duration
Size of class, leadership, and sections
Schedule for the week
Download Teaching Tips/Syllabus PDF
Timing of class and duration: My classes meet twice a week, on Monday and Wednesday mornings for an hour and a half at each session. The Monday class is when the topic for the week is introduced, either by me or a guest resource person (or both). During the Wednesday class, the student team (of four students) leads the class in an exercise to deepen and broaden our understanding of the topic. This exercise may consist of a skit, a focused discussion, an exercise in which the class is divided up into small groups to tackle questions having to do with the week’s general issues, and so on. The students are very imaginative, I find, and come up with “fishbowl,” focus groups, role playing, and so on. It is important that the Wednesday activity be based as directly as possible on the readings for the week. This student exercise takes about an hour; I use the remaining half hour of the class to have general discussion on the reading and/or the topic of the week, to show a short video, or to hear from a guest to the class. back to top
Size of class, leadership, and sections: Teaching in the quarter system, I like to keep classes to 32 or 36 students so that during the ten weeks of the quarter you can divide the class up into eight or nine teams of four who provide leadership on Wednesdays to lead the class. This number also allows for the creation of four “sections” of eight or nine students each that meet for an hour sometime during the week to talk with each other about the readings. These are self-organized groups: one student leads, takes attendance, and comes into the “section” with trigger questions for discussion. (I used to have my teaching assistant lead these sections, but I have found that it works much better to have students lead and self organize during the sections and the Wednesday team work in class.) back to top
Schedule for the week: Almost every day of the week, something is happening with regard to my class: - On Mondays, we meet for an introduction to the topic of the week. - On Tuesday evening a movie is shown. (The students organize the time and place so th at they can meet in groups to see the movies; they take attendance.) - On Wednesday, the second meeting of the class happens, during which the student teams (usually of four people) lead the class for an hour. - On Thursday and Friday, students meet in their “sections”: these are self-organizing, as mentioned above, and the student leader that week takes attendance. - On Saturday at midnight, each student’s weekly email, sent to me and the teaching assistant, is due. Students are asked to send a short email (perhaps four or five sentences, unless they want to write more) letting us know how they felt about the reading, whether anything in particular stood out for them, or whether they had any significant questions about the reading. I try to respond to as many emails as possible, but at the very least, these emails sometimes serve as the basis for discussion in the next week. PLEASE NOTE that the in their emails the students are commenting on the reading that is relevant to the NEXT week of class, so their questions can provide background for the Monday and Wednesday meetings of the subsequent week. - On Sunday or early on Monday: the teaching assistant collects all of the emails and posts them on our website (without attribution and not including any emails of students who specifically ask that we not include their emails); these are posted by Monday morning so that students can see what everyone has written before the first class of the week. back to top
Convening the class with the intention of the group becoming a community, if only for ten weeks): I try very hard to convene the class in a room that can accommodate all students sitting in chairs in a circle so that everyone can see everyone else. During classes early in the quarter, we play “names” games, during which all the students (and the teaching assistant and the professor) learn the names of all students. One such game is to have a student begin and then each subsequent student around the circle repeats the name of the first student and every other student up to and including the speaker. Obviously, the last student in the circle has to try to remember all the names (and I usually locate the teaching assistant in that place.) We strive to have all interactions in the class be mutually empowering. back to top
Content: The book, From Outrage to Courage, was based on my courses; therefore, for me, it provides a starting point for every week’s discussion. If you teach a similar course, you will add other readings so that discussions can be comprehensive and lively. Students should be strongly urged to locate other sources on the topics listed in the syllabus to critique and/or add to the book. An interactive website can be very helpful in encouraging students to be active readers and critics. Guest resource persons are important to my course, and I identify them from local organizations that might be working on some of the issues (e.g., the local Women’s Crisis Center or Planned Parenthood Chapter); from the faculty at my university or at some other local university, many of whom may have traveled and/or done research on a relevant topic; and among the students themselves, who bring rich backgrounds to the class. Increasingly, films are available on the topics listed in the syllabus; I have asked students to research such films and to suggest appropriate films for the class. Finally, I have put together and briefly annotated a list of novels, memoirs, and journalistic accounts, mostly by non-U.S. people, for the students’ use. Students are required to choose one such book and read it during the quarter; a short book review is required toward the end of the quarter. back to top
Style: The style of the class is designed to be based on the following principles: mutual empowerment, mutual learning, evenhandedness, courtesy, generosity, compassion, trust, and respect. There is a conscious attempt to give reality to such principles. This is important in any setting, but it is especially important when some particularly sensitive issues are discussed. back to top
Final Note: Please feel free to email me if you plan to teach a course on international women’s health and human rights and think that I may be helpful. Please see the sample syllabus that follows.
Good luck! Anne Firth Murray back to top