Anya is a Ph.D. student in the History of Science and Critical Media Practice at Harvard. Her research interests are in intuition and mathematics, the Russian symbolist movement of the early 20th century, quantum information theory, and in different methods of mathematizing, including by improvisation in dance and other artistic mediums.
As a Media, Visualization, and Literacy Fellow Anya has made use of the resources at the Bok Center to introduce alternative teaching techniques into three classes for which she also served as a Teaching Fellow, Professor Irwin Shapiro’s “SPU 22: The Unity of Science”; Professor Rob Hart’s section of the MIT Media Lab’s course “How to Make (Almost) Anything”; and Professor Ned Hall’s “EMR 17: Deductive Logic.”
SPU 22 with Professor Irwin Shapiro
In collaboration with Professor Irwin Shapiro, Anya introduced two movement-based “labs” into the course in addition to adding the option to produce a creative final project in lieu of a critical paper. Anya’s first movement module explored the principle of Kepler’s Second Law: students were asked to both learn the text articulation of the law in addition to participating in a simulated exercise that asked them to perform a part of the movement included in the law. After teaching the law using both methods, she discovered an interesting divide in student knowledge: some students seemed to retain the language of the law, though they did not seem to understand it on a deeper level, while others were capable of thinking and moving through the law but had more trouble articulating it. When taken together, these divided results suggest that a combination of traditional text-based learning and alternative practices may be a key to helping students arrive at the deepest understanding of a concept.
Later in the course, when students studied protein structure and function, Anya discovered that one of the most difficult concepts for students to intuit is the thermodynamics behind protein folding, a process that, like Kepler’s second law, is also grounded in mathematics. Again, in order to help students understand better thermodynamics, Anya developed a series of improvisational movement experiments intended to provide students with a sort of embodied, intrinsic understanding of the material that is not accessible in two-dimensional drawings. As was the case with Anya’s first movement module, the exercises, in combination with the traditional modes of relating physical processes—text and image—provided students with an alternative and illuminating perspective on the course material.
Finally Anya encouraged students in SPU 22 to treat the final project for the course in a more creative way. Rather than assigning a particular creative mode, Anya asked students to craft a project that articulated the logic behind the physical principles they had learned, rather than simply regurgitating the material. Many students made board games, and as a board game, by design, is intentionally non-linear, the final work produced for the course reflected a deeper and more nuanced understanding of course material made encouraged by Anya’s earlier series of experiments in alternative learning.
“How to Make (Almost) Anything" with Professor Rob Hart
As the “guru” for the Harvard section of the MIT Media Lab’s course “How to Make (Almost) Anything” Anya assisted students who had no previous knowledge in any sort of digital fabrication. Her work with the course culminated in a series of workshops organized by her and Professor Hart for students who wished to continue working with the course materials after the semester had ended.
It was Anya’s experience in “How to Make (Almost) Anything” that first piqued her interest in “making.” As a course assistant, she was in constant conversation with students about how they saw this hands-on making becoming a part of their own discipline. She began wondering how tactile knowledge was related to text-based knowledge—what Peter Gallison terms “concrete abstractions” or “abstract concreteness.” Gallison’s claim, which has come to inform Anya’s own teaching philosophy, is that some of the most interesting paradigm shifts in History of Science come from the marriage between the abstract and the concrete. Gallison cites the correlation between the rise of the particle physics machine and the decline of abstract physics in the 1920’s. Anya, as a result, has become a fervent believer in “making” as a way to bridge the gap between the concrete and the abstract, and, as she learned working with Professor Rob Hart, a valuable mode of understanding.
Ethical and Mathematical Reasoning 17: Deductive Logic with Professor Ned Hall
As the Teaching Fellow for EMR 17 with Professor Ned Hall, Anya innovated new ways to teach complex philosophical thinking to students with no philosophy background. She first discovered, in collaboration with Professor Hall, that getting students to identify what a given statement does not imply—what it, in fact, excludes—is one of the most effective methods to help students home in on what the statement does imply, by process of elimination. Later in the semester, Anya and Professor Hart began the process of developing visualizations that illustrate this process of elimination as well as other strategies intended to clarify the logic behind certain complex philosophical statements. These visualizations will appear on the course website and will complement the preexisting weekly problem sets. Their intention is to aid students in non-linear thinking by means of foregoing the sentence in favor of an intuitive mode of understanding: the illustration.