What is the most and least successful course you have taught?

Mark Baker

Monash University

After a quarter of a century of teaching and watching the blackboard change to a whiteboard and now a digital screen, I've moved many of my classes from the lecture room to off-shore sites. Over the past year I've taught an intensive, two-week course on the aftermath of conflict and genocide in South Africa and Rwanda; a course on conflict resolution and peacebuilding in Israel and the Palestinian Territories; and journeyed with student groups through the landscapes of post-Holocaust memory in Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Krakow, and Vilnius. Students emerge from these immersions in the 'traumascapes, of recent' history engaged and transformed by the encounter. Of course there is the compulsory research essay, readings, and exam, but nothing in the classroom can match a conversation with a Rwandan survivor whose flesh is marked by a machete wound; or a visit to a church near Kigali where the bones of the slaughtered worshippers bear witness to their final prayers; or attendance at a genocide tribunal on a rural hilltop in Rwanda; or being guided through the alleyways of Soweto by a fellow student who grew up there; or a visit to an abandoned wooden synagogue near the forests of Ponary; or taking the train from Berlin to Wannsee and stopping at Platform 17 from where Germany's Jews were deported; or moving from a hotel in West Jerusalem to East Jerusalem; or visiting Abraham's tomb in Hebron twice—once from the Jewish side and then again from the Muslim side; or meeting a student in Deheishe refugee camp, and then listening to a parent speak of his hope despite losing a daughter in a suicide bomb attack in Jerusalem.

My worst course? The one I'll be giving next year where I find myself alone in the lecture room, while the students are all at home listening to me talk to myself through technologies that encourage absence. I might just turn off the button and see if anyone notices.