Monday, April 2, 2012

Learning in 3D: Why Distress, Dysfunction, and Disorder is Leaps Better than Your Average Lecture Class

This semester, I am loving all of my classes and I’m actually really sad that the semester is almost over. (I never thought that I’d say that about school.) But there’s one class in particular that I especially love—my psychology class called Distress, Dysfunction, Disorder: Perspectives on the DSM. The two times that I missed "3D," as many students call it, I was totally bummed that I didn’t get to go (which again, as much as I enjoy learning, is not something that I ever thought I’d say). But I’m telling you, this class is awesome.

Besides the topic, which in and of itself is fascinating, my teacher, Jaine Strauss, is absolutely fantastic. The class covers various mental disorders, from depression to schizophrenia to autism, so at times, what we’re learning isn’t exactly sunshine and rainbow-y. (Learning about side effects of medications, or about how people with depression struggle to get through each day isn’t exactly uplifting). But no matter what, Jaine keeps the class engaged and having fun. She even literally leaps around the classroom at times.

What’s that you say? Your teacher leaps? What are you talking about?

Let me explain.

The class is not a small one—there are about 76 people in it—which by Mac standards is huge. (Our average class size is 18).

But Jaine knows everyone’s name. She grades our papers with lots of personal comments, makes herself totally available for office hours and even adds extra office hours and a review session before our tests. And speaking of tests, if you aren’t such a fan of them, have no fear, because Jaine is here! For “3D,” we have something called an “Alternative Grading Plan,” which basically means that, to an extent, you get to decide how to weigh certain assignments towards your grade. If you tend to bomb tests, but don’t mind writing essays, you can distribute your grade percentages so that your essays count for more than your tests. If writing isn’t your thing, but you’ve got a study system down, you can make your tests worth more. And if those options don’t appeal to you, you can even do things like volunteer in the Twin Cities and write about your community service experience (the community service has to have something to do with mental health, like helping at a school with children with learning disabilities or volunteering at a women’s shelter) or do an art project, or have group discussions, that will count towards your grade.

Even more awesome than getting to design our own grading plan is Jaine’s enthusiasm.  One day, when she was lecturing, she put up a slide with a bunch of information that she wanted to tell us about, but that she didn’t’ want us to write down. She told us not to write it down, and I’m sure we all kind of looked at her with blank faces. She then leapt in front of the PowerPoint screen, waving her arms around, jumping up and down, and yelling “Don’t write it down!” And just to be extra sure, she grabbed a jacket off of a nearby table, flung it in front of the screen, and blocked the information from our view, to really, truly emphasize, that we didn’t have to write down the information.

I have countless more memories of days in class when Jaine has leapt about, made grand arm gestures, or made crazy facial expressions to get a point to hit home. I’ve come away from many a class period with both a smile on my face and thoughts to ponder in my head and I can tell you with almost one hundred percent certainty that I will be enrolling in one of Jaine’s classes in the future.

By Heather Renetzky '15