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Session R6299 (Let’s Put It All Together!: Pedagogical Fluency in the Middle East Studies Classroom after 2020), 2021
As the world rapidly transformed throughout 2020—from the global pandemic, to heightened worldwide demands for racial, social, and political justice, to shocking regional events like the tragic Beirut port explosion—I began to critically rethink what I want students to get out of my classes. After participating in the Scholar Strike in September, I decided to completely throw out my old teaching playbook and start anew, particularly in my upper-level course on the Modern Middle East.

Abandoning the tried-and-tested method of teaching a comprehensive history of the MME using primary sources and diverse scholarly articles, I decided it was necessary for students to learn about the region in ways more relatable and relevant to their own upended lives, and to help them critically understand what they hear on the news. Rather than trying to cover ME history in broad strokes, we now take deep dives into one topical monograph per week, based on the following criteria: 1) topics that have most contemporary relevance; 2) books that prioritize bottom-up narratives over high politics, focusing on the stories, experiences, and perspectives of diverse everyday people; 3) studies that take interdisciplinary approaches based on extensive ethnographic research; and 4) the best scholarship currently being produced on the region. And instead of only teaching how the US has impacted the ME, we also flip the lens to examine how Middle Easterners have shaped America beyond the usual tropes of oil, war, and terrorism. I also created a less hierarchical learning environment by giving students more autonomy, responsibility, and accountability in their learning process. Students read, analyze, and interpret the texts in small groups according to what they would like to discuss (in Zoom breakout sessions) while responding collectively to a set of open-ended questions. As I will share during the roundtable, the results have exceeded my own expectations, and those of the students.

Taking advantage of new possibilities in online learning, I also now incorporate virtual exchanges into my courses, creating opportunities for students to interact and even collaborate with students in the Middle East, which has been indispensable in countering the assumptions and stereotypes that American students unwittingly hold about Arabs. Holding virtual discussions with the authors of the books we read also gives students a deeper appreciation and understanding of how we do research in and on the region. I will share more about these new teaching methods during the discussion.