Lauren Onkey always wanted to teach a seminar at the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry (VBC), but, as she says, “It was a matter of finding the right kind of course.”
As it turns out, Onkey’s Consuming a Nation was precisely the right kind of course for the VBC. In fact, Consuming a Nation became an immersive learning experience that Onkey believes successfully “engaged students in a profound way and helped them to grow and challenge themselves.” Consuming a Nation contained several innovative components: interdisciplinary work, an atmosphere of collaboration, an end product, and community involvement. The seminar allowed students from departments across campus opportunities to engage in intensive research on tourism in Ireland. As part of their research process, students took a two-week trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland where they interviewed tourists, tourist workers, academics and Irish citizens. In partnership with Indiana Public Radio, Onkey and her students produced a series of nine five-minute radio stories exploring the impact of tourism on Irish culture. The idea for the seminar came from Onkey’s interest in tourism, a topic that she covers in her postcolonial classes and with which she engages in scholarship. “Tourism is now the largest industry in the world; it’s the most popular way that we step out of our routines and experience something out of the norm. While tourism is indeed universal—expanded air travel and the ease of international communication means that those with resources can travel almost anywhere—that universal experience depends on people who cannot tour and travel, those who stay put and change beds, work as tour guides, assemble cheap souvenirs, and cook food.” Of course, Onkey’s interest in “the serious politics of a leisure activity,” tourism, motivated her initial conception of Consuming a Nation, the seminar and the radio series.“Because the VBC dispenses with many of the traditional rules of a class, it forces the teacher to question all her assumptions, the things that have become second nature or common sense,” she says. “‘Why am I assigning this exam or this reading, anyway?’ ‘Is it linked to a goal?’ It was tough to ask myself all those questions.” For more information about Onkey’s seminar and to listen to the radio series, visit Consuming a Nation.
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