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Flexible finals in the pandemic

By Holly Barker, Anthropology

This quarter I am teaching Research in Critical Sport Studies (ANTH 269). It’s a course for first-generation to college and/or students underrepresented in research. The class gives students a space to develop a series of small research projects with classmates so students consider the important contributions they make to academia, as well as opportunities to take these projects to a deeper level during successive quarters.

I don’t give midterms, and I don’t give final exams. Instead, I collaborate with students to create final projects that apply their learning from the class in ways that are meaningful or practical to them.

This is a quarter for maximum flexibility, so I’m emphasizing options. I encourage the students to talk about the barriers to learning they are experiencing right now so we can collectively adjust. Some students want their final projects to be a written option (e.g., writing an application to the McNair program or to an honors program on campus ). Another option is a video/oral submission where students apply critical discourse analysis in sports to the unfolding current events connected to police violence and the pandemic, an option that emphasizes the importance of student voices.

The students and I feel challenged in so many ways this quarter, and we are being open and honest with one another. I’m certainly not at my best, and I can’t expect them to be either. We are learning a great deal, but our learning is not the same as it would be in the classroom. We are learning a great deal about ourselves, and our responsibilities to shape our institutions. My job in this class and in the assignments is to further enhance the existing strengths of these fabulous young people so they will feel bolstered, prepared, cared for, and connected as they address the challenges of this world.

Our class started with a critical analysis of sports but quickly transitioned to the many ways that what happens in sports is very much connected to what happens outside of sports. I thank my students for their grace, courage, honestly, and patience this quarter, and for their ability to lean into one another for support even though they have never met in person.

Holly M. Barker is a principal lecturer in the UW Department of Anthropology and curator for Oceanic & Asian Culture at the Burke Museum.