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Wednesday, September 3, 2003
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Common reading project promotes active learning community

By Emily Hemmelgarn

First-year students at Ohio University are becoming engaged in a campuswide project to encourage intellectual curiosity and active learning beyond the classroom. For the second year, many first-year students are reading the book ?Einstein?s Dreams,? creating common ground for the incoming students and the new world of learning that they are about to embrace.

?First-year students across campus, from all different majors, reading the same book and talking about the diverse issues that this intellectually rich book raises, creates the conditions for a shared set of learning experiences that, taken together, form a common learning environment,? said Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies David Descutner.

Alan Lightman?s fascinating book is being used to help challenge students to begin their college education early. One goal of the campaign is to make the transition easier for the students and their parents by forging a shared intellectual experience for them that ideally will provoke discussions and reflection on the part of both students and parents.

Advocates for Critical Thinking (ACT), a group of faculty and staff from across the university, launched the program to further promote critical thinking among the university community.

Learning to appreciate differences

For the students, the opportunity creates a shared frame of reference with thousands of their peers before they even take a step onto the brick walkways of Ohio University.

?Students are similar in a lot of ways, but the common reading project allows them to appreciate differences. They can interpret things differently, and they should appreciate those differences,? said Tricia Zelaya, a student member of the residence life staff who helped to mentor freshmen involved in the project last year.

For the parents, it is another way to close the generation gap and connect with their students as they begin their collegiate journey.

?Einstein?s Dreams? discusses how time is used to make decisions throughout one?s life. The novel describes ways to step back from the time-consuming world we live in and see all the ample opportunities a person truly has when making a decision. Different ways of discussing time and decisions are written throughout the novel in the form of dreams. Who else?s dreams to better read about than Einstein?s!

Engaging students outside the classroom

?This opportunity allows students to become intellectually engaged outside of the classroom, even before they take their first college class, in many cases,? Joe Burke, director of Residence Life, said. ?As they enter college, we are trying to reinforce the students? roles as independent thinkers who can form their own perspectives. The book allows the readers to step back and examine decisions. It encourages students to view the world from different perspectives.?

?The book allows the students to apply the lessons to everyday situations. New students are intimidated by the challenge of balancing schoolwork, activities and making new friends. The book is helpful in that it focuses on time management and decision-making,? Zelaya said.

Some faculty members in the areas of English, Health and Human Services, Chemistry, Political Science and Communication Studies are applying the book to their coursework, and the concept has spread to Ohio University Chillicothe Campus and Ohio University Zanesville Campus.

The novel is required reading for UC 169, University College 115 (freshman orientation) students, Residential Learning Community members, students in other courses, and members of the Residence Life staff.

Emily Hemmelgarn is a student intern with University Communications and Marketing
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