Barbara Mossberg

Clark Honors College | 541-346-8752

Courses: Emerson and Einstein: Interdisciplinary Artist Activists; Epic and Leadership; Eco Epic and the Green Imagination; Eco Literature; Travel as Transformational Learning; Revolutionary Imagination; John Muir's Backpack; Thesis Prospectus; Thesis Orientation 

In my courses you will (select two practices that are important to your teaching):

  • Make connections to lived experiences and real-world challenges.
  • Develop a significant project that will challenge you and make you proud.

I was invited into the Teaching Academy because (select all that apply):

  • I am an Ersted Award Recipient.

In what ways are you working to make your teaching inclusive? For example, did you make any choices to improve students' sense of belonging in the course or to help students see their own interests and concerns as connected to those of the course?

In the Epic and Leadership class, for example, I do several introductory things to have the students begin to make connections between their interests and concerns and those of the course. We consider Emily Dickinson's poem “I’m Nobody” and students reflect on how this poem may speak for them and others ("are you Nobody too? Then there's a pair of us? Don't tell! They'd advertise—you know!”). I ask them to identify someone they see who plays a leadership role in their life, and they share these, reflecting as a class on what values and attributes are shared in their experience with leadership, so that there is common ground as well as diversity of experience with leadership.

I ask students to write me an introductory letter that reflects on their learning experiences so far, including for learning that has mattered to them and how it came about, as well as challenges and obstacles to learning, and their hopes and fears not only for the course but their academic career and life. Then I have a conference with each student to review the course work, to help develop topics and ways to address the assignments that will take forward their interests and goals. Later, after we read The Odyssey (as individuals and in group projects), I ask them to imaginatively engage with The Odyssey, writing an essay called “My Life as the Odyssey.” In their introductory letter, they have discussed their life basically as a set of chaotic frustrations and detours and luck and striving, but now they are seeing themselves through the lens of epic; they see their messy lives so far as one of heroic struggle, contending with internal and external forces that drive them off course, delay their progress, and cause fears, as well as mentors who guide and aid them. They see their past learning experiences causing their being at UO and Clark Honors College as a function of one or more Athenas, mentors; and they reflect on their Ithacas, realizing that these destinations may change as they themselves experience a wider and more diverse world. They may have seen coming to UO as their goal, only to realize as Odysseus does when he arrives on Ithaca at last after twenty years, that one’s struggles and challenges have just begun; the book is only half over. They re-imagine their goals of academic learning, and reconsider what their Ithacas are.

I then ask them to write a journal prompt on why I asked them to write on this topic, and this takes us to a discussion of how they can see their own lives in transformational ways—that such vision and hope can come from both reading and writing, both in reflective and analytic ways connecting their own lives and our reading.

It is my hope that our readings of classics (ostensibly removed from their experience by thousands of years and across cultures and languages and geographies) illuminate their own inner epic heroes. We read epics from various eras and cultures, and in each case, I ask students to use close reading of the text as a departure point for insights into their own lives and vice versa. In Dante’s Inferno, they re-write the first two cantos as about their own lives—who are the monsters standing in their paths, what are their fears, what figure is coming to lead them to the light, etc. In Cyrano de Bergerac, I ask them to write something about their life’s greatest goals that cannot realistically be achieved through no fault of their own. After reading Cryano, I ask them to write an essay called “My Nose,” in which they reflect on Cyrano’s being wrong about his nose keeping him from love: what ideas about why they cannot reach their goals could they possibly be wrong about? In Don Quixote, they rewrite the Table of Contents in terms of significant events in their own lives. They experiment with writing their own lives as biographies and autobiographies.

In such assignments, they are seeing their lives—pasts and futures—in new ways through epic reading.

I ask them to work as a team in a consulting practice to leaders in their world, from what they have learned about leaders in these texts—do’s and don’ts, and each presents on their leader to the class, and shares their work. At the end of the course, I ask them to write me another letter of introduction. It is my hope that they will see that their letter now is a very different way of presenting themselves as learners in terms of their pasts and futures. We also make an arc with the initial “I’m Nobody’ prompt in which they take this anthem of belonging and re-define themselves in terms of what we have learned about ourselves as human beings in this learning community. 

What do you do in terms of professional engagement with the teaching and learning culture on campus or nationally? For example, did you attend any workshops, read articles about student learning, observe colleagues with similar goals for their students?

Every year I present to the national and regional meetings of the Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching, at Miami University (Ohio), and Austin (TX), for college and university teachers and department heads. I present on pedagogical and curricular innovation in interdisciplinary and transformational learning (on the use of “meta meta” prompts, for example). I also present peer-reviewed papers on why and how to teach “eco” across disciplines at the Maple Leaf and Eagle Conference, as part of the Fulbright Ambassador Program, at the University of Helsinki, and the ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment). I also present to the Emily Dickinson International Society (Amherst College, Oxford University, Sorbonne University) on why and how to teach Emily Dickinson to an increasingly diverse study body. I have served on the Editorial Board for the Journal of Excellence in College and University Teaching, and as a peer reviewer, as well as on several interdisciplinary scholarly journals on leadership, culture, and literature. I frequently develop podcasts for my weekly hour radio show on the lively arts, The Poetry Slow Down (, in which I reflect on learning about learning from scholarship, colleagues, and students. I am writing a book about my experience teaching classics (what the world needs now) in multicultural settings (including adult learning, first-generation, diverse ethnic and racial communities, from Salinas and Monterey, CA, to the Clark Honors College and UO). 

In what ways was your teaching in this course research-led—informed by research on how students learn and inflected by UO's research mission? For example, did you articulate specific goals for student learning, structure small-group discussions and activities during class or online, assign activities to help students prepare, offer students an opportunity to reflect on their learning, or invite students into research processes?

I have been approaching my teaching for UO these past five years as an incredible opportunity for pedagogical innovation in interdisciplinairy and transformational learning, based on continuous assessment of student learning outcomes and new pedagogical and curricular strategies for evidence-based learning. I am bringing students "backstage" of the learning goals to share my goals and theories for learning and my sense of what is at stake in their learning, and how their learning is needed by our society. I often ask them to write (they all keep learning journals) on why they think I have made the assignments (both reading and writing) I have, which gives me the opportunity to work with their perspectives and adjust my teaching strategies in transparent ways. I set out goals for their learning, and do structure small-group discussions as a regular feature of the class (my courses have nineteen-twenty students, and I break down the class into groups of two, or three, or four, for in-class and team projects). In each of my courses, on campus and in study abroad, I assign preparatory assignments (as described above in the example from my epic class), and ask students to reflect on their learning both in preparatory and final essays and in prompts in their journals. 

What are you reading? 

I am reading "The Art of the Wasted Day" by Patricia Hampl, exploring as relevant for the liberal arts the roles of what we consider impractical detours of productivity, like music, or poetry, or art, or pondering, for what turns out to be "genius" and valued and essential achievements of humanity and discoveries that change the world; and myself am writing a book with a humble reach: "The Power of Nobody to Change the World--the unlikely role of poetry in civil and human rights, war and peace, and the environment." I'm very interested in making the case, citing chapter and verse, for the serious role of poetry in our lives (confession: I am a poet).

Who or what made me want to be a teacher?

I was at UCLA and felt anonymous and unimportant in the vastness of that study body as an undergraduate. I had to take an English course in my junior year, which I had put off (because of my traumatic first-term experience with its Part One). Most of my courses were large lectures of 400-800 or more students; it didn't matter if you attended class and often were watching lectures on tv screens in satellite rooms. I wanted to transfer schools but needed letters of recommendation, and I did not know any teachers (nor they did know me). The work in my courses was multiple-choice exams. In this course, I had to write a paper, which I rushed off (already an alienated student) and then went to visit my boyfriend at Stanford. I returned and called my professor, "This is Barbara Ann Clarke, in your English 2A, 10:00, student number . . . ."--and he cut me off. "Where have you been? I've missed you, and the class has missed you. Come see me." I was in his office in fifteen minutes, without my shoes (this was the sixties and it was Spring). The idea that a student was important to a learning community was transformational. I changed my major to include English as well as history, and went on to graduate school, with the idea to become a part of an education in which students felt necessary to what was learned; what was learned could not be learned without them. I decided to devote myself to this kind of learning as an educator. My professor's vision of me, making me feel seen and heard, was transformational, and this became my model for leadership and teaching: to make people feel seen, heard, and necessary. I believe people hunger to matter utterly to our world, to want to contribute meaningfully, to make a difference, and I want to be an agency of this sense of possibility and mandate in students, colleagues, and people in our world.