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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

ExCEL class studies at Museum of Fine Arts

Published: November 2, 2012
Section: Features

Fellows of the Brandeis Experiential and Community-Engaged Learning program (ExCEL) hosted an egg drop competition for Brandeis students on Wednesday. Participants were provided materials to build a contraption capable of protecting an egg dropped from the Shapiro Campus Center balcony.

ExCEL offers students and faculty unique opportunities to expand their learning and teaching potential beyond the classroom. Through ExCEL, students and professors can conduct independent research, take or teach ExCEL courses, intern off campus, participate in community-based projects, create artwork and study abroad.

ExCEL opportunities allow students to take an active role in a constantly evolving society.
Professor Koloski-Ostrow (CLAS) uses experiential learning to enhance her course, Art and Archaeology of Ancient Rome. “The Object Project,” a central component of the curriculum, helps her students see beyond routine classroom lectures.

The class spends an afternoon at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where they take interactive tours throughout the Greek and Roman exhibits.

“We are lucky to be at Brandeis [where we have] access to real Greek and Roman art,”
Koloski-Ostrow said.

Each student selects one artifact from the era between 800 B.C. and fourth century C.E.

“Whether it be a fountain basin, an everyday object like a strigil, a medical object such as a tongue depressor, an ear cleaner, or something more fancy like jewelry, a statue, or a wall painting,” the array of possibilities allows much room for creativity, Koloski-Ostrow said.

The students then research a specific link between a detail of their chosen object to a topic from a list of 40 possibilities including, religion, politics, daily life or ancient entertainments.

Compiling their drawings and research, the class collectively creates a catalogue of MFA artifacts. The historical analysis promises a more engaging product than many art catalogues. “I’m pretending that they are my little army of field researchers,” Koloski-Ostrow said.
She explains that she does not want to read a catalogue of already familiar ideas. “This is [their] chance to turn around [their] experience of the course and teach me something. It gives a lot of power to them.”

Koloski-Ostrow also incorporates an experiential learning environment inside her classroom. She showcases her own collection, which includes the jawbone of an 11-year-old boy killed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii in 79 C.E. The class discusses the objects with a concentration on the underlying context and histories.

“Each one of the 54 [students] gets a little face time with him,” Koloski-Ostrow said.

In addition to Koloski-Ostrow’s personal collection, Brandeis has about 800 objects in the Classical Artifact Research Collection (CLARC) including, religious statues, glass bowls and medical objects. Should students not find a piece for the “Object Project” from the vast MFA collection, they are welcome to choose one from CLARC.

CLARC selects four student interns annually to work with Koloski-Ostrow as museum curators and create a yearly exhibit showcased in the library. The CLARC interns and the CLARC collection are a valuable resource for students in Koloski-Ostrow’s Art and Archaeology of Ancient Rome course.

They learn to “appreciate what a wealth of resources our classical section of the library has,” Koloski-Ostrow said.

Koloski-Ostrow advises that the best way to learn is to never stop questioning. “You have to be so careful—always questioning yourself about what you know, what you think you know and what you want to know.”

Through the experiential learning portion of her course, Koloski-Ostrow translates her palpable passion for classical studies to her students. Nicknamed “A-OK-O,” she has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from students who note her enthusiasm, engagement and thirst for classical studies.

Not only is Koloski-Ostrow an anchor for the successes of experiential learning, but she is also an example of academic thrill. Students learn most effectively when engaged and excited about their studies. Even more powerful is the event where a professor shares this same ardency.

Koloski-Ostrow began teaching at Brandeis in 1985. “I love this place, I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else,” she said.